Cultural Perspectives on Mental Health

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Cultural Perspectives on Mental Health

Culture and Mental Health:  

The connection between mental health and culture may not be apparent, but they are intricately connected, constantly influencing each other. Culture encompasses a community's shared beliefs, norms, and values, playing a significant role in shaping the perception of mental health.

One can take the example of the 19th-century world, words like:

  • Lunatics
  • Imbeciles
  • Idiots
  • Cretins,

were used to describe those afflicted with mental disorders. Moreover in the middle ages people with mental illnesses were considered to be possessed by devils and were made to go through exorcisms.

Therefore, the way the cause of such illnesses was perceived also influenced the kind of treatment that would be used on such people. For instance, people with such illnesses were made to undergo drastic surgeries like frontal lobotomies, designing them to prisons and almshouses.

In some southeast Asian cultures people believe that supernatural powers are responsible for mental illness and view it as the outcome of disrespect for spirits or God.

When we shift the demography to the people in villages of India many seek mental health services (also in developing countries )from shamans and religious experts for various alternative remedies. This may be for reasons of a lack of financial resources, lack of literacy and awareness. But whatever may be the reason, they do go to shamans if they come across mental health illness. In Africa, for instance about half of people affected by mental illness seek therapy from shamans and religious practitioners in the first instance of their illness. Therefore the way culture perceives mental health also influences how people with illnesses get treated

Studies have shown that depression is more common in cultures that value individualism and achievement than in collectivist cultures. And while anxiety disorders are found across all cultures, they tend to be expressed differently in different cultures. In Western cultures, anxiety is often experienced as fear or dread. In contrast, in Eastern cultures, it may be more likely to be experienced as physical symptoms such as heart palpitations or dizziness.

Culture also influences if  people even seek help in the first place, what types of help they seek, what types of coping styles and social supports they have, and how much stigma they attach to mental illness. Culture also influences the meanings that people impart to their illness

Cultural Factors that Impact Mental Health:  

  1. Family Background: Family is the first social element we come in contact with when we are born. Therefore the way they handle their mental illnesses (if any) would heavily influence the way we would handle the same if we develop the illness. If our family members are struggling with mental health issues, we may not learn how to manage our emotions effectively or cope with stress. As a result, we may be more likely to develop mental health problems later in life.
  2. Religion : Religion for many is a source of belonging , and support .Therefore with heavy influence on one’s life the area of mental health is not untouched. People who are comfortable with their religion can find that its beliefs conflict with their mental health. For example, some religious teachings suggest that mental illness is a sign of moral weakness or possession by evil spirits. This can make it difficult for people with mental illness to seek help because they may feel ashamed or believe their condition is not treatable, this makes mental illness a social stigma.
  3. Tradition:The way we are expected to behave in our community and culture may impact our mental health. Taking the instance of women expected to handle both work and home chores places them at a higher risk of developing stress related disorder.

Cultural Competence in Mental Health  

Cultural competence in simple terms  is sensitivity to cultural differences .The same starts with respect for diversity. Cultural sensitivity acknowledges and respects the diversity of individuals and their backgrounds. Mental health conditions can be influenced by cultural factors such as beliefs, values, and social norms. By understanding and appreciating these cultural differences, clinicians can provide care that is respectful and relevant to the individual’s cultural context.

Key aspect of cultural competence is “effective communication.”  different cultures “may have unique communication styles, nonverbal cues, and language preferences.” When clinicians are “sensitive to these cultural nuances,” they “build rapport, understand patients’ experiences accurately, and facilitate a therapeutic alliance which is vital for successful treatment outcomes.”

Stigma and shame are issues in many cultures, so it should not be a surprise that people from certain backgrounds “may be more hesitant to seek help, due to concerns about social judgment or fear of being labeled.” Clinicians who seek to be culturally sensitive will therefore create “a safe and non-judgmental environment where individuals feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns and seeking appropriate treatment.”

Culturally Sensitive Assessments and Interventions:  

Different cultures may have unique healing practices and support systems. Clinicians who are culturally sensitive can incorporate these cultural strengths into treatment plans, tailoring interventions to align with the patient’s cultural values and preferences. Culturally appropriate interventions are more likely to resonate with patients and improve treatment outcomes.


No one can deny the fact that culture is a part of mental health, and both are interwoven that we need to understand and adhere to cultural perspectives when dealing with people in a therapeutic setting. People have the right to get treated for their illnesses in their own comfortable ways.

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