The Massachusetts General Hospital Textbook on Diversity and Cultural Sensitivity in Mental Health

Part of the series Current Clinical Psychiatry pp 3-30


Mental Health of Arab Americans: Cultural Considerations for Excellence of Care

  • Imad MelhemAffiliated withNeurobehavioral Medicine Consultants Email author 
  • , Zeina ChemaliAffiliated withDivision of Global Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital-Harvard Medical School

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Immigrants from the Middle East constitute the highest proportion of migrants world-wide. Arab Americans, who make up the majority of Middle Eastern populations in the United States, are a heterogeneous group with diverse cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Despite this heterogeneity, these immigrants may share a similar experience of migration and acculturative process.

This group remains poorly understood, despite the significant media and public attention it has received in the recent years, and its diversity is often missed in clinical assessments and treatments. This is especially true in the field of mental health where a significant paucity of evidence-based knowledge currently exists and impedes the professional’s ability to provide culturally sensitive treatments.

The professionals working with people of Arab origins find only limited data to guide their understanding and treatment of the mental health problems of this population. Only few clinical studies have looked into the risk factors and the mental disorders of Arab Americans and the available research has been largely explorative in nature and remains negligible compared to that involving other US minority groups.

Many cultural and religious considerations should guide the provision of culturally sensitive mental health services to Arab Americans. A good understanding help seeking attitudes and the obstacles to obtaining mental health services would better guide the creation of effective strategies for health care delivery in this growing community and mitigate against unsafe practices both by providers and patients.

As this community diversifies further and undergoes the process of acculturation, the mental health characteristics and needs of the Arab American population will continue to evolve. The scope and momentum of current research, education and service delivery should parallel this evolution.

This chapter aims to provide clinicians, educators and professionals with a better understanding of this community. It begins with a socio-demographic overview of Arab Americans and their immigration patterns followed by a review of the characteristics of their mental health. It then presents the cultural considerations pertinent to a culturally sensitive understanding of this population. Blended case vignettes are used to illustrate the cultural complexity encountered in the clinical setting. Finally, the chapter concludes with clinical recommendations to the professional treating Arab Americans.