As we get through the public-health crisis created by COVID-19, medical and mental-health leaders are coming to terms with how broken the systems really are.

One lesson we’ve learned: Shame—not cost or convenience—is causing far too many people to avoid medical and mental care, even when that care is free or low-cost. How someone feels about asking for help can have a real effect on a person’s future—especially if it becomes the reason that person doesn’t go to the doctor or see a therapist when necessary.

“When we feel ashamed or embarrassed because of our life circumstances, or we are afraid of being stigmatized for seeking services, it will make it much more difficult to access vital resources and get help,” says Dr. Jill Gover, manager of DAP Behavioral Health. “For example, feeling embarrassed over finances might keep you from seeking help, even though DAP Health provides assistance with insurance or MediCal enrollment through Covered California.”

DAP Health’s caregivers and experts are making a conscious effort to talk about health equity more, because the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health both say we need health equity for people if we’re going to beat COVID-19.

“Health equity means that everyone has the opportunity to be healthy based on their needs, not on their ability to pay,” says David Brinkman, the CEO of DAP Health. “It also means no one should feel like an outsider once they come inside to see a doctor or psychologist.

“But getting people to take that first step can be difficult.”

Discrimination—against the poor, LGBTQ individuals and racial minorities—also increases the likelihood people will avoid essential care.

“If you’re told by society over and over again that you’re bad, wrong, inferior and not good enough, then you come to believe it after a while,” says Dr. Gover. “And with the inadequacy comes shame.”

The intersection of oppression and poverty can create feelings of unworthiness, which are barriers to care, she says.

Shame—not cost or convenience—is causing far too many people to avoid medical and mental care, even when that care is free or low-cost.

To break down these barriers, DAP Health is making it easier for people to ask for help in several important ways. DAP Health has culturally competent doctors and therapists who can see patients from home, or onsite at the DAP campus. Social-services access has also been expanded for help with life essentials during this pandemic.

DAP Health’s dedication to cultural humility has its caregivers leaning in to get to know their patients, instead of assuming a one-size-fits-all approach works.

“At DAP Health, you’ll be helped by someone who understands what you’ve been through, without you having to spell it out for them. It’s that simple,” says Carl Baker, DAP Health’s director of legislative and legal affairs. “And if they don’t look exactly like you, then rest assured they’ve been trained in cultural competence, and they are your ally.”

Once people begin getting care at DAP Health, they become part of the family.

“Health equity at DAP Health means no one wonders if they belong—they just feel it,” says Brinkman.

Read more about DAP Health and its expanding role in public health and health equity at www.daphealth.org/dap-health-brand. To become a patient, visit www.daphealth.org/health-services/become-a-patient. Jack Bunting is the public relations specialist for DAP Health.

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