How Culture Contributes to Mental Health Stigma

Mental health is a topic that is still associated with stigma across the world. It can be perceived as a weakness of character, for instance, or a condition best kept hidden. One of the factors that influence stigma is culture.

Culture can shape the ways in which we think about mental health, mental illness and what we are allowed to do in order to cope with it. For instance, in some cultures, there is the expectation of dealing with the problem yourself or keep it in the family circle rather than bring it to a professional or seek spiritual guidance rather than medical support.

These cultural beliefs can influence the way people think of mental illness: as an illness or a problem or perhaps not even a condition at all. It can also influence how likely people are to seek help and support for this issue. Studies have found that in cultures that have dominant stigmatizing beliefs, that is, that these beliefs are prevalent among most people or supported by cultural aspects, individuals are less likely to seek help from mental health professionals and general practitioners as well, no matter what they themselves believe.
Cultures that has a strong stigma with regards to mental health may also contribute to individuals being less likely to ask for help when they need it. Stigma is shaped by beliefs and ideas that explain the causes of mental disorders and how they should be treated. Some cultures have more negative views that can influence the way people feel and act in regards to their mental health.

In the digital world individuals seeking help may find that there are many outlets and resources online and even in one’s community that may be able to assist. No one should be made to feel ashamed, embarrassed or outcast for having a mental illness. Many people who suffer with mental illness, have shared on social media that locating helpful solutions or simply talking about it, has aided in improving their outlook on mental health.

Alina Sidorova is a writer, psychologist and avid reader based in Mexico.

References: Bracke P, Delaruelle K and Verhaeghe M (2019) Dominant Cultural and Personal Stigma Beliefs and the Utilization of Mental Health Services: A Cross-National Comparison.Front. Sociol. 4:40. doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2019.00040