Minh's Story: Communication and Culture in Health Care

handsMinh Quang knows how important communication and culture is in health care.  Minh’s primary language is French, and he came to live in Canada from Vietnam.

He had heard about French services offered at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA formerly Trellis) through events like the franco-fête and the AFKW (Association des Francophone de Kitchener Waterloo) newsletter and had even attended several health information sessions there.  But it wasn’t until his 10-year old son needed support that the need for language considerations in health care became critical.

“It was very important that we meet with a French-speaking professional, as my son was not proficient enough in English to express himself,” explains Minh.  “Although he was already being followed by a child psychiatrist, the language barrier made communication very difficult for him.”

That’s when Minh met with Christine Gillis, the French and Multicultural Mental Health Coordinator for the CMHA in Waterloo, Wellington and Dufferin. Christine was hired in 2011 to coordinate French mental health services for the Waterloo Wellington French community after a need for such services was identified in 2010 through community engagement.

“Health equity is a priority at CMHAWWD,” explains Christine. “Access to health services should be based on need and a fair distribution of available resources and care should consider cultural and language differences.”

Through Christine at the CMHA, Minh’s son was connected to a French-speaking social worker who helped him to manage the issues he was experiencing at the time and worked with the family to develop some strategies to support him.

“Knowing that there are services available to Francophones as well as cultural minorities is very important to me,” he explains.  “Although people may be able to express themselves at a functional level, talking about personal health, especially mental health, in a second language can build barriers that prevent people from seeking help when they need it.”

Minh has begun putting his own language skills to work by volunteering with the CMHA through regular visits with an elderly French-speaking patient at a retirement facility.

“It is important for people to know that they can talk to someone who understands their cultural background and the sensitivities around mental illnesses,” he says.  “Removing cultural barriers and misunderstandings may encourage more people to get help.”

The Waterloo Wellington LHIN has an estimated French-speaking population of 12,005 residents. As new immigrants make up the majority of new French-speaking people in our region, we’re working to address increased diversity. All of the initiatives outlined in our Annual Business Plan applies to all residents but we will continue to implement and initiate new activities that will improve services for Francophone residents.