A Cultural Iceberg: The Complexity of Mental Health and Mental Illness

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2021-12

Authors

Isaac, Aurora

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Abstract

Elements of culture consist of values, beliefs, and norms shared by a community. This cultural aspect of an individual contributes to differing viewpoints on mental health, mental illnesses, and patterns of health care utilization. Mental disorders are present worldwide. However, cultural diversity conceptualizes how mental health is perceived and how mental illnesses are defined. Insights from psychological anthropology assist in recognizing how cognition, emotions, and motivation shape a sociocultural setting, directly impacting the perception of mental health and illness-related factors such as how symptoms are expressed, stigmatization, coping mechanisms, kinship support systems, and the willingness to seek treatment. Consequently, mental health is full of theoretical and practical challenges which limit diagnosis and treatment across cultures. This thesis evaluates cross-cultural perspectives that focus on alternatives and varying explanations regarding the effects of culture on mental health and mental illness. An in-depth look at the influential factors of culture on mental illness and the corresponding research is presented in the light of existing literature. Modern approaches regarding the relationship between patients and health professionals involve a collaborative treatment for the best outcomes, bringing about a distinction between universalism and particularism in psychology. Although the idea of western psychology regarding mental illness and mental health has great merit, it has created unproven assumptions that may not always be applied globally. Moreover, there are numerous challenges in identifying a specific disorder amongst various cultural groups. The culmination of this thesis aims to draw attention to the significant role cultural fluency plays when considering mental health and approaches clinicians can employ to identify, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses in individuals from various cultural backgrounds.

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