May 20, 2022

Cultural Perspectives and Mental Health

By Melissa Del Carmen
Mental Health & Wellbeing

As some of you may know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Nowadays, many in the western world have normalized the topic of mental health. We see topics like self-care and testimonies of mental health experiences shared on social media and talked about amongst different communities. For some communities, there is a stigma remaining when considering the topic of mental health. Experiences like depression, anxiety, and trauma are not considered and even deemed as “not real”. Historically, many cultures have viewed mental health or mental illness with negative connotations. This month is important because it raises awareness, reduces the stigma, and encourages those living with mental health or behavioral health concerns to seek support. 

May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI). A month in celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. As a Filipino-American and now mental health therapist, May is a significant month for me personally. Each year, I learn more and more about how my cultural lens and understanding of mental health play off of each other. I hope through this blog, you feel encouraged to also consider how your cultural background and perspective play a part in how you view mental health.

An Adopted Lens

To take a moment to show appreciation to my parents, they have been in full support of my choice to pursue a concentration in mental health support and care. Our Filipino culture has instilled values that I continually desire to honor and incorporate in my daily life. For many of you reading this, I imagine that you may also see your family’s cultural traditions and practices showing up in ways in your everyday life.

Oftentimes as a child, I would have vivid dreams and sometimes nightmares throughout the night. In an attempt to find comfort, I would tell my mom about each dream and she would then interpret its meaning using a dream dictionary. There was a cultural perspective instilled in me that the sleeping self relates to the waking self and each dream was to be interpreted to create meaning or action in the waking life. Many Filipinos find dreams to be a sense of connection to passed loved ones and with the spiritual world. To this day, the cultural lens that I’ve adopted from my parents has impacted the way I try to understand what dreams mean to me and has helped me develop my own sense of how unresolved stress in my waking life vividly shows up in my sleeping life. 

When we are considering cultural perspectives, it’s helpful to think about the inherited patterns of thoughts, values, meanings, and beliefs of a or your family or cultural group. In my pursuit to explore my understanding of mental health, I’ve had to consider the personal experiences, like those dreams, that have created specific perspectives of mental health. What lens have you adopted?

Key Components of Cultural Diversity and Mental Health

Researchers Hechanova and Waelde have identified five key components of diverse cultures that have implications for mental health considerations. It’s important to note that they made these findings in the specific context of disaster situations in Southeast Asia, but it nonetheless provides a framework to begin the discussion of cultural diversity and mental health. They found the following concepts important to consider:

Emotional Expression: Some cultures may view expression of emotions in a certain light. Some cultures find emotional expression as accepted and others find it as inappropriate and intolerable.

Shame: Shame may play a key part in an individual’s discernment in expressing the state of their mental health. Shame and the stigma of mental health is one of the reasons why some cultures and individuals are slow to access mental health support.

Power Distance: When working with a therapist, cultural perspectives (e.g., view of respect) or the large differences in power may exist in individuals of different cultures between the client and therapist. This may have impacts on the therapeutic relationship. 

Nature of Collectivism: Some cultures view their support group as a huge impact to their overall well being, thus being a supportive factor to resilience and coping. 

Spirituality and Religion: Similarly, some cultures view their spirituality and religion as a source of coping with a disease or difficult experience. 

As you consider your view of mental health, these components can be useful to reflect on. Likewise, it may be important for you to consider, in a safe setting, how you’ve experienced racial trauma. The experience of racism can have numerous effects that adversely impact one’s mental health. As part of the discussion of racism and discrimination, researcher Narayan Gopalkrishnan notes that, “mainstream bias and the stereotyping of cultural groups in health care need consideration. The very concepts of normality and abnormality in Western therapeutic approaches are embedded in cultural constructions that cannot be easily generalized across cultures”.

Questions to Consider:

  • What cultural lens do I look through? 
  • How does my worldview or cultural lens impact my view of mental health?
  • What part or role has my family played in viewing mental health? 
  • What perspectives have I knowingly or unknowingly adopted from my cultural background? 
  • How do I tend to express my experiences and emotions?
  • What do I turn to when I’m experiencing something difficult?
  • How do I want to let my perspectives affect how I view caring for my mental health?

One value I hold dearly is the Filipino trait, Bayanihan. Bayanihan is the Filipino value of togetherness among people in the community and helping one another in time of need. Caring for your mental health does not have to be a one-man job. You can connect with trained individuals who will consider different aspects of your life, like your cultural background, to care for your full self together.

If you’re wanting to explore how your background impacts your present life, or if you would like to take the next step in caring for your mental health, please reach out to myself or one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today!

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Melissa Del Carmen

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