Society has shifted dramatically over the decades, especially in recent years. These changes have impacted literally every corner of daily life – and one of the areas that has transformed significantly is mental health. Social attitudes have evolved, and people are much more accepting of mental health issues and more supportive of people with related problems. As a society, we have become better informed about the more common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. There is increased awareness and focus on wellness (which includes mental health) and less stigma around mental illness, reaching out for help and seeking treatment.
That said, we still have a long way to go – especially when framing this issue from a sociocultural standpoint. Let’s face it – every society has its own cultural and social norms. Culture is intergenerational and is defined as a set of learned behaviours and beliefs that are characteristic of a specific social group and shaped by shared experiences – this dynamic deeply impacts the way of life of the people within it. Some examples of influences that form the core of culture are ethnicity, race, religion, family values and traditions.
An individual’s experience and manifestation of mental illness will always be influenced by their social and cultural background. These influences will impact every facet of a mental disorder – from how individuals communicate their symptoms, to determining their coping strategies and interventions that they seek.
In countries where Western medicine is practiced, mental health treatment places emphasis on empirical evidence – cultural, psychological, social, genetic and biological factors are all taken into account. This model subscribes to the theory that mental illness is shaped by physiological and biological causes that can be treated medically, and typically involves psychiatrists and psychological practitioners for their treatment. On the other hand, in some Eastern medicine-practicing parts of the world, individuals are more likely to present their physical symptoms than their emotional symptoms, which impacts both diagnosis and treatment.
Culture can be a huge determining factor in either motivating or demotivating treatment-seeking behaviour. Some suffering from mental illness may seek support from families and within their communities based on cultural mores and values, whereas others may avoid help and struggle in silence – sometimes, tragically, resulting in suicide. In some cases, an individual’s spiritual practices can be involved as alternatives to psychiatric and psychological treatment. To this day, there is no consistent global perception, and no definitive coping styles or treatment-seeking behaviours associated with mental illness – it remains an area that is strongly affected by sociocultural influences.
A simplified mainstreaming of mental health approaches may not answer the needs of a culturally diverse population from different communities and backgrounds. These are critical considerations when developing research and training mental health practitioners – there needs to be the integration of both Western ideas of healthcare, as well as positive traditional approaches.
At the end of the day, healthcare staffing agencies play a big part in supporting and recognizing the effect of sociocultural influences on wellness in general, and mental health in particular. In recognition of this multi-layered dynamic, AHCS is committed to raising awareness of how our cultural and social backgrounds affect mental health issues, and creating environments that foster the highest level of care and well-being.