Dr. Kwame McKenzie didn't want to start his speech telling his audience what they should learn about.
The renowned psychiatrist from the University of Toronto spoke to Hamilton health, social work and diversity professionals Thursday morning at the Centre for Civic Inclusion's Mental Health for a Diverse Hamilton conference.
"That's what happens to [the diverse] population all the time," McKenzie said. "We give them what we want to give them and not what they want."
That's one of the inherent difficulties with offering mental health services to different cultural groups in a multi-cultural society.
"How can we help people accept our help?" he said. "Usually that's what the issue is."
McKenzie offered some statistics to show mental health professionals need to find better ways to embrace diversity: globally, there are 20 cities where at least one million people of out the population are foreign-born. Mental health issues amongst immigrant populations are growing faster than those of Canadian-born individuals, making it twice as likely for immigrants to develop poor mental health. Non-white ethnic immigrant groups are showing higher rates of mental health issues than white or European immigrants.
Cultural confidence, or having an understanding of various cultures, can improve these statistics.
"We're trying to build trust and building people liking us," McKenzie said.
On an organizational level, McKenzie made these suggestions: hiring a diverse staff that reflects the diversity of the city. Also, using signage with languages that represent the community.
McKenzie uses the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health's Chinatown location as an example. The surrounding community speaks English, Cantonese and Mandarin, but the CAMH signs are just in English and French.
"If you change the signs, we'd come," McKenzie said of what he heard from community members.
McKenzie also said professional psychiatry is a step behind.
"The most common symptom of depression worldwide is sadness [according to psychiatry]," he said. "If you go worldwide and talk to people, feeling tired all the time is the symptom."
But there is also an element of a shift in perspective that McKenzie said could help immigrants cope. Immigrants often come to a new country and their professional aspirations are thwarted, he said, and combatting mental health issues is also about "rebalancing life."
McKenzie, an immigrant from England, said even he is in this boat.
"I'm here and I'm happy," he said. "I'm working at a high level but not as high of a level as I'd be working [in the UK]."
But it comes down to professionals wanting to not just engage, but marry as McKenzie put it, the community.
"Cultural confidence can be a piece of work," McKenzie said. "You usually have to give up a little bit of power and give people a stake in what you're doing.