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Ways That Culture Can Impact Mental Health

Mental health is not just a psychological issue without impact from biology or genetics. Mental health is impacted by far more than what is happening inside the physicality of an individual's body, as well as the culture you are part of. Culture can be defined as the beliefs, values, behaviors, and norms that a group of people hold. A person’s culture may play a role in how they talk and feel about their mental illness, how they cope, and the stigma associated with it.

Studies published by the CommonWealth Fund indicate that minority groups in the United States are less likely to get help for mental health. While there are many other barriers associated with seeking help for minority groups, a person’s culture can create more of a stigma for seeking help. In order to help others overcome these barriers to receiving mental health treatment, it’s important to understand how culture can impact mental health.

Ways That Culture Impacts Mental Health

Cultural Stigmas

First off, let’s address what a stigma is when it comes to mental health. A stigma is a negative attitude or belief about mental health. Stigmas can lead to discrimination and can make people with mental health conditions feel ashamed of themselves. Common cultural stigmas around mental health in the US include portraying people with mental health issues as being violent, criminals, “crazy,” and even depicted as overly stereotyped villains in fictional media. Despite how much more informed people are about mental illnesses today, many cultural stigmas still exist regarding mental health.

All cultures are different in the way they approach acknowledging mental health. Some are becoming more accepting of it, while others still view mental health as a made-up problem. For example, many Asian-Americans place a strong cultural value on interdependence within their communities, which means the problems they have should be solvable within their own community rather than searching for outside help, such as seeing a therapist. There are also stereotypes that Asian-Americans face in terms of wealth, education, and “success.” These cultural stereotypes are harmful, create more of a stigma, and make people feel shame and embarrassment for needing help.

Understanding Mental Illnesses

Not all cultures talk about mental illnesses or educate about mental illnesses equally. Some cultures may be more familiar with the emotional symptoms of a mental illness, while others may only recognize physical symptoms as being problematic. In order to grasp the full picture and provide people proper health care, it’s important to recognize all emotional and physical symptoms.

Here are some common symptoms of mental illness that are important to recognize:

Physical:

  • Insomnia, difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Headaches

Emotional:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Excessive sadness
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Extreme anger or irritability
  • Difficulty perceiving reality

Take a look at the list of physical symptoms above, and think about how difficult it would be to provide a diagnosis to someone who only recognized physical symptoms but failed to acknowledge any emotional symptoms. For instance, if someone goes to the doctor simply for headaches, it would take additional questions and prodding to discover if those headaches were caused by excessive stress from anxiety, or if they were brought on by something else like dehydration.

When people cannot accurately report their symptoms, it can cause a delay in receiving a diagnosis and proper treatment. On a side note, it’s not just an individual's job to report their symptoms, but also a doctor’s job to ask the right questions to better address their patient’s needs.

Some cultures use different words to describe symptoms of mental illnesses that are not properly received by their doctors. The script to accurately report symptoms of mental health conditions requires both the doctors and the patients to communicate effectively together. People from different cultures may have more barriers to properly understand each other.

Cultural Support

Culture can often dictate how supportive a person’s family or community is when it comes to seeking treatment for their mental health. If a person’s support system does not accept their mental illness, it will be harder for them to seek help. Some cultures can also make individuals feel like it is a burden to share their mental health issues with their loved ones. They may be seen as being ungrateful or difficult by being emotional.

Religious Beliefs

In some cultures, receiving mental health treatment from doctors may go against their religious beliefs. Thinking about suicide is often regarded as being sinful, and those with mental health needs are often advised to rely on the power of prayer. There is nothing wrong with choosing to pray for your mental wellbeing, but in addition to prayer, mental health treatment is still necessary to overcome mental health conditions.

Having a mental illness is not sinful and you should not feel ashamed. Seeking proper treatment will help you get back to your healthiest self and make you better able to devote yourself to your religious practices.

These are only a few of the many ways culture can impact mental health. Cultural impacts on a person can be complex, posing difficult obstacles when living with mental illnesses. American culture has made a progressive shift in its attempt to encourage self-acceptance in individuals, but public/community acceptance is just as important in reducing the barriers to receiving mental health treatment. You can help create a positive cultural impact on mental health by working to end the stigma, supporting your loved ones, and spreading factual information to educate others on the benefits of receiving mental health treatment.

To become more trained in supporting others with mental health, you can also take a mental health first aid class that will teach you how to recognize the signs of mental health conditions. Check with your local public safety offices to see if any in-person classes are available, or contact us at Jackson House. Our specialists are passionate and experienced in delivering the proper mental health services to those in need. Never hesitate to contact our team to begin receiving care today.

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