How Culture Impacts Mental & Physical Health

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Understanding the impact of culture on mental and physical health can be really important if you are interested in supporting psychological well being. This lesson discusses positive and negative impacts culture can have.

Understanding Culture

Dr. Mackey is a psychologist who works with a very diverse patient population. She believes that the more she understands about her patients, their lives, and their belief systems, the better she can support them emotionally.

Dr. Mackey also maintains strong relationships with primary care physicians and psychiatrists that she can refer to, and she knows they must all collaborate to help support their patients.

Lately, Dr. Mackey and her colleagues have been learning more about how culture can affect health. She understands that culture is the constellation of ethnic backgrounds, religious traditions, values, norms, identities, and language groups that her patients relate to.

Mental Health

Dr. Mackey has come to see a complex relationship between culture and mental health, and she can help her colleagues understand these connections.

Positive Effects

Many times, culture can have a positive effect on patients' mental health. For example:

  • Dr. Mackey sees many patients who identify strongly with cultural traditions and take great pride in belonging to a cultural group. This can help them in times of mental stress, depression, and anxiety.
  • Many cultures have strong collectivist beliefs, or beliefs in providing community support. These cultural traditions can be very meaningful when mental health is an issue for an individual.
  • Some cultures place very little stigma on mental illnesses like schizophrenia or psychosis, thus better enabling patients with these struggles to seek support and assistance.
  • Dr. Mackey works with many patients from cultures that do not have the expectation that people be happy or positive all the time. She finds this cultural framework very helpful in supporting people as they cope with stress and trauma realistically.

Negative Effects

At the same time, Dr. Mackey knows that there are some really negative ways that culture can affect mental health in her patients. For example:

  • Patients from minority cultures have often experienced tremendous discrimination, and even with great support from within their cultures, their mental health suffers as a result.
  • Some cultures continue to hold very biased views about certain sexual and gender minority identities, and coming from these cultural backgrounds can be really detrimental, for instance, to LGBT patients.
  • Many cultures put great emphasis on individual success, making mental wellbeing complicated for people who learn to be very hard on themselves over their achievements and successes.
  • Dr. Mackey has many patients from cultures that stigmatize or even refuse to acknowledge mental illness, which makes it very hard to seek out or sustain strong treatment.

Physical Health

Dr. Mackey's colleagues have helped her see that culture can also have a profound effect on physical health and wellbeing in a variety of ways.

Positive Effects

There are many positive impacts that culture can have on physical health. For instance:

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