Employee Spotlight

How Fast Access to Culturally Competent Mental Healthcare Helped Me Heal and Grow

Hear Ankit's story of overcoming cultural challenges around mental health stigma, and why fast access to a diverse provider network is so important for employees.

Written by
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Ankit Pathak
Employer Brand Lead
Clinically reviewed by
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Ankit Pathak and his wife

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    This is Part 4 of our Spring Stories blog series, sharing the personal mental health journeys of Spring Health employees.

    On the eve of my 25th birthday, I was enjoying a glass of red wine and cooking spaghetti turkey marinara. Suddenly, my heart started racing and my mind began to accelerate.

    Despite feeling uneasy, I continued with my dinner, only for the sensations to worsen. I questioned why I was feeling scared, why my heart was pounding, and whether I was going to die. It was then that I realized I was experiencing my first panic attack.

    I sought comfort in my girlfriend, now wife, who had also experienced panic attacks and anxiety. She shared with me the tools that had helped her cope, including meditation and therapy. 

    I delved into meditation, starting with the Headspace app and a book called “10% Happier” by Dan Harris. Although challenging at first, I made meditation a daily practice and found it to be a helpful tool in my journey.

    Even with a meditation practice at my disposal, I knew this wasn’t something I could wish away. Whatever was happening to me was going to take discipline and work to manage.

    The cultural challenges and mental health stigma

    As a first-generation Indian-American, mental health wasn’t and still isn't a topic that was openly discussed in the Indian and larger Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) community. There continues to be cultural beliefs that discussing mental health is a sign of weakness, and seeking coping tools outside of your own family can be seen as unnecessary, “dramatic,” and burdening others with your problems. 

    These attitudes and beliefs make it incredibly difficult for anyone in the community to address their own mental health struggles. They cause so many of us to feel shame, embarrassment, and loneliness as we struggle and work our way through what’s happening to us. 

    Being the oldest on both sides of my family, along with being a male, I felt a sense of unspoken and subconscious responsibility to uphold the aforementioned cultural expectations. This made it difficult for me to be open and honest about my own struggles with mental health. 

    Thankfully, I had a partner who understood what was happening to me and encouraged me to begin my healing journey. 

    Overcoming the cultural challenges around mental health stigma required me to challenge cultural norms and beliefs, have difficult conversations with family and friends, and seek out resources and support from culturally competent mental health professionals. 

    It took time and effort to shift my own mindset around mental health and help others in my community do the same.

    My personal experience with therapy

    As my anxiety persisted, I realized I needed to seek therapy. Finding a therapist was difficult. Like so many others, I encountered an incredible amount of friction:

    • Where do I find a therapist? 
    • Which therapists would be covered by my insurance plan? 
    • How much does it cost? 
    • Is there a diverse network of providers who are culturally competent
    • How do I open myself up to someone I just met? 

    All these questions swirling around in my head added to the anxiety and stress I was already feeling. All these barriers made it nearly impossible for me to receive the support and care that I needed.

    Eventually I discovered ZocDoc, which allowed me to search, read reviews, and schedule appointments with therapists and various healthcare providers. Despite feeling nervous about sitting alone with a stranger, I took a leap of faith and gave myself and the therapist grace. 

    The experience was life-changing, and I received a space of non-judgmental listening. This allowed discussion, emotion, and a space to create and try new tools that would help as I did the work.

    I continued to visit the same therapist for a year, incorporating additional tools such as journaling, breathwork, meditation, reading, and movement into my routine. Then I continued to do the hard work on my own. 

    Why a diverse provider network is so important

    A diverse provider network is essential. Here are three of the greatest reasons.

    Cultural competence

    A study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that cultural factors, such as values, beliefs, and behaviors, can influence an individual's experience of mental health symptoms and their willingness to seek help. 

    Having a therapist who shares a client's cultural background can help promote a sense of trust and understanding that can lead to better treatment outcomes.

    Access to care

    People from diverse backgrounds may face unique barriers to accessing mental healthcare, such as mistrust of the healthcare system, cultural beliefs, and language barriers. Imagine explaining your feelings in your second best language. It doesn't feel impactful, empowering, or freeing.

    A diverse provider network can help break these barriers. Even if some are still hesitant to seek care, diverse providers create an opportunity for true openness and change with their clients.

    Improved outcomes

    Research has shown that clients are more likely to engage in and benefit from therapy when they work with therapists who share their cultural background and experiences. 

    This is especially important for clients from marginalized communities, who may face unique challenges and stressors impacting their mental health that other communities don’t face in the same way.

    A diverse provider network of psychologists and therapists is critical for ensuring that everyone has access to high-quality mental healthcare, regardless of their background or experiences. We all want to feel seen, heard, and validated.

    The challenges of finding a therapist with a traditional EAP

    The last three years have been hard. I was laid off at the start of the pandemic, which led me to question myself, how I’d messed up my career choices, and who I would be without a job. I had to sit with those thoughts and feelings until November 2020, when I accepted an offer to join Rocket Mortgage.

    Throughout 2021, my wife and I took advantage of the counseling provided by a traditional Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through the company. We consider ourselves very lucky to have that as a resource, but also thought there could be improvements to streamline the process and make it easier to find our own diverse therapists. 

    Finding care required calling a number, and having them email us a list of providers in our area. Most of the time, the providers didn’t have a website and their voicemail inboxes were full. We felt so stuck.

    The difference with an innovative EAP

    Near the end of 2021, the company announced it would be partnering with Spring Health to provide mental health resources to employees and their dependents. I immediately began researching this new benefit, what it was offering us, and the mission of the organization. I was blown away.

    My wife and I both signed up, researched the diverse network of providers, and set up therapy appointments. After just six sessions, both of us were beginning to heal and grow as individuals and as a couple. 

    The platform was easy to navigate, the app offers various wellness exercises, and we were able to use the money saved from out-of-pocket costs toward our wedding last summer.

    One of the biggest barriers to mental health support

    That brings up one of the most difficult barriers to mental health: cost. The average cost for a therapist in the United States ranges from $100–$200 per hour, per session. That total out-of-pocket cost for my wife and I ranges anywhere from $2,400–$4,800 annually, and is an incredible amount of financial weight to carry. 

    Because of my Spring Health benefit, we didn’t have to worry about the extra monetary and mental cost for maintaining our mental wellness.

    Cultivating a healthier company culture

    In July of 2022, I joined Spring Health as the company's first Employer Brand Lead. Today, I go to therapy every 3-4 weeks, and I’ve learned more about myself and why I am the way I am. 

    Everyone’s mental health journey is different, but fast access to culturally competent mental healthcare is empowering and liberating, both financially and personally. 

    It not only gives your employees the opportunity to be mentally well, it also creates a healthier company culture, with increased productivity, fewer missed workdays, and a lot less employee turnover. 

    Get your copy of this guide to learn more about how personalized mental healthcare for employees and their families can deliver validated clinical outcomes and financial ROI. 

    About the Author
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    Ankit Pathak
    Employer Brand Lead

    Ankit is the Employer Brand Lead at Spring Health, and has seven years of experience in the Recruitment, Recruitment Marketing, and Employer Brand space. He’s built functions from the ground up and has also been part of a team’s helping support over 40,000 team members. He’s worked in the technology, mortgage, and mental health industries throughout his career.

    About the clinical reviewer
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