One thing that has become increasingly important in this contemporary age of diversity is the importance of tailoring programs to individual needs. Arguably, nowhere is this more important than in the field of suicide prevention and treatment.

Using a cookie-cutter approach to treatment with a suicidal person who is part of a minority community (such as racial and religious minorities, women, LGBTQ, etc.) further alienates the client, who most likely already feels marginalized by “the system”. It’s important for therapists and care providers to take the cultural and societal differences of minority groups into careful consideration when working with these individuals and in devising prevention and treatment plans for these valuable members of our society.

Here are four things that can go wrong when we fail to consider and understand cultural differences in suicidal minority clients.

#1: Misunderstandings Cause Confusion and Alienation

Since the dawn of time, different cultures have developed their own unique ways of life, including beliefs, values, behaviors, and methods of communication. Something as simple as unfamiliar terminology can cause the client and the provider to misunderstand each other.

Minority clients especially need to feel confident that their unique needs are understood to develop confidence in their care provider or therapist. We as providers should strive to understand where our clients are coming from and find common ground from which to work – especially when their societal norms differ from our own.

#2: Trust is Eroded

We all know that the bedrock of any therapy session is trust. Without it, our counsel can fall on deaf ears. Clients need to feel that they can rely on their therapist or care provider to have their best interests at heart.

But how can we really have a minority client’s best interests at heart if we don’t understand her heart?

Taking time to understand a client’s cultural background provides valuable insight into her needs and helps build a foundation of trust between you and your client.

#3: Suicidal Thoughts May Become Exacerbated Instead of Mitigated

Many minorities already feel alone in their thoughts and experiences – even mentally healthy ones.

When minority clients feel misunderstood and unsupported (especially by the very person that is charged with helping them), this can contribute to a feeling hopelessness and increased “otherness”. If a suicidal minority client feels further alienated as a result of their treatment, her thoughts of suicide may become even more prevalent.

#4: Treatment is Less Effective

We all want to feel like our efforts are succeeding, and that our work with those struggling with suicidal ideation or behavior is making a difference. However, when misunderstandings and a lack of trust exist between a client and his provider, even the most proven-effective prevention methods can fall flat.

Clients can sense when we simply don’t “get them.” As a result, they are less like to open up and share, which prevents us from providing the best care possible.

As professionals in the suicide prevention and treatment field, we need to become culturally aware of our more diverse communities’ specific needs in order to ensure that the work we do is effective and successful.

To avoid these pitfalls, it’s important to consider ways to “bridge the cultural divide” when working with minority clients who do not share our own experiences and identities.