Human beings are distinct in the way they are. There are differences in the way every individual thinks, feels, and behaves. These individual differences are also due to the influence of cultural factors. Culture remains a major part of our being. It influences our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. Mental health and Culture are intertwined concepts where each of these interact and influence one another.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Mental Health is a state of well-being where the human being gets to understand one’s potential, can fend for oneself with the normal stressors of life, work productively and can contribute to oneself and society’s lives. The antonym of Mental health is what we call Mental Illness.
This article aims to understand the influence of culture and its associated factors on Mental Health and illness.
Mental Health and Culture- Meaning
Mental health can be defined as the state of optimal well-being in all aspects: physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Culture can be defined as the set of values, beliefs, meanings, norms, and behaviours that have been followed and shared by a group of people. Mental health and culture interact with each other while culture has a greater role in impacting the mental health of individuals. It could be said that culture plays a huge role in which mental health is understood, developed, and interventions are formulated.
Culture and its Influence on Mental Health
As mentioned earlier, culture has a huge impact on understanding mental health and mental illnesses. It plays an important role in
- Understanding mental health- the norms that the culture holds are how individuals understand well-being.
- Influences social competence- the mental health-related aspects like being sociable, shyness or inhibition, aggression, etc. have been articulated from the context of culture.
- Has a huge impact on the emotional expression of individuals– either to express or not. Certain cultures hold the norm that men shouldn’t emote crying.
- In the creation of self-identity- the self of an individual is created by the interaction of oneself with the world he has to interact with.
Stigma and Mental Health
Stigma can be described as the negative attitude attached to a characteristic of an individual that may be regarded as a mental, physical, or social deficiency. Stigma can lead to unfair discrimination against an individual or a particular group of people. Stigma, prejudice, and discrimination are all interrelated negative social attitudes that have the potential to create barriers. In general, as well as specific to the context of mental health and mental illness, it has the potential of causing impact the individuals seeking care towards mental health, acknowledging and addressing mental health issues or problems and even seeking professional support or guidance.
Read More: Stigma Around Therapy
Every culture has its view towards mental health so is the stigma attached to them. Some culture holds the belief that mental health challenges are a sign of weakness in an individual. In contrast, some culture believes that it is not a problem but something that an individual has personal control over. Be it any culture, Stigmatization of mental health or illness is always a significant barrier to seeking treatment or interventions. This can substantially affect certain aspects including,
- It might lead to delayed treatment as individuals believe that they might be labelled.
- Stigma might contribute to the endorsement of social isolation and discrimination.
- Reduced adherence to treatment or individuals may discontinue treatment after several sessions.
- Mental illness can be conceived variedly or misinformed and would negatively influence.
- Stigma towards mental health problems significantly varies for men and women. In some cultures, men and women face the same issue regarding mental illness. While certain cultures seem to hold a higher degree of stigma associated with women compared to males.
Family dynamics and Mental Health
Family is the first social system that each individual gets to interact with. It is from the family that individuals seem to learn and grow. Family is where individuals tend to rely upon for support in terms of physical, emotional, and economic support. It is the primary source that provides love, support, and care and is endorsed with feedback and demands. Family dynamics refers to the sets of reciprocations among family members, their affinities, their interactional impacts towards the roles and relationships, and the various factors that shape their communications. Certain factors contribute to healthy family dynamics while certain factors connect with unhealthy family dynamics.
Healthy dynamics are associated with optimal seek-out for mental health treatments while unhealthy dynamics would lead to impaired treatment methodology or trauma. Flexibility, clear communication, stability, emotional maturity, cohesion, and warmth contribute to healthy family dynamics. In contrast, isolation, rigidity, unclear communication or no communication, conflicts, and aggression could lead to unhealthy dynamics causing mental health-related problems or creating a negative attitude towards seeking treatment.
Cultural Resilience – Mental Health
Culture and the associated factors tend to impair mental health problems. On the flip side, culture can also act as a source of resilience. Resilience is the power or the tendency of an individual to bounce back from the setbacks individuals hold on to. Cultural resilience is the capability of a cultural system (consisting of cultural processes in relevant communities) to absorb adversity, deal with change, and continue to develop. Cultural resilience thus implies both continuity and change: disturbances that can be absorbed are not an enemy to be avoided but a partner in the dance of cultural sustainability (adapted from Thiele [2016, 36]).
Certain cultural aspects, practices, and traditions tend to serve as a source of support, belongingness, and connection. Multiple aspects of culture and Mental health care, Though we have many cultural practices across the globe, mental health care professionals have begun investigating and incorporating potential aspects of culture imbibed in the consideration of treatment or intervention plans. The various aspects of culture, race, gender, and socioeconomic status should also be considered in providing a tailored treatment approach to the individuals.
Culture is one of the powerful and effective lenses through which individuals experience and interpret the world. The awareness and acknowledgement of the impact of culture can foster an effective and more inclusive approach to mental health care. The understanding of various cultural factors and their impact on mental health can create a more supportive and resilient society that cares about mental health as well as physical health.
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- Yang, Z., Cui, Y., Yang, Y., Wang, Y., Zhang, H., Liang, Y., Zhang, Y., & Shang, L. (2021). The Relationship Between Mental Health Problems and Systemic Family Dynamics Among High School and University Students in Shaanxi Province, China. International Journal of public
health, 66, 1603988. https://doi.org/10.3389/ijph.2021.1603988
- Ahad, A. A., Sanchez-Gonzalez, M., & Junquera, P. (2023). Understanding and Addressing Mental Health Stigma Across Cultures for Improving Psychiatric Care: A Narrative Review.
- Cureus, 15(5). https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.39549
- Gopalakrishnan, N. (2018). Cultural Diversity and Mental Health: Considerations for Policy and Practice. Frontiers in Public Health, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2018.00179