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How Sociocultural Norms Affect Health Care Problems

Instructor: Anthony Santillanes

I'm Anthony with a Bachelor's in Health and Wellness, a Master's in I/O Psychology, and have led multiple adult training events.

This lesson focuses on the effects sociocultural norms have on decisions and policies related to healthcare. A definition of sociocultural norms is provided as well as their role in decision and policy making.

Sociocultural Norms: The Intersection of You and Everyone Else

Have you ever worn pink and been told that's a girl's color? Have you ever seen someone eat a food that would never even be brought into your home, let alone consumed? Or have you ever been told to just ''be yourself''? All of these are examples of sociocultural norms in which behaviors, ideals, and values are shared by a group. Pink is generally considered a girl's color in the U.S. and can be seen at baby showers for mothers expecting daughters, on inmates whose wardens believe the color is emasculating, and on only the most macho of men. While turkey is usually found on U.S. tables at Thanksgiving, many Asian countries view turkey meat the same way Americans view rats as a source of protein. Being yourself is a very American (as well as European) mindset that wouldn't be as well received in more communal societies (such as those found in Japan, where the group is more important than the individual). So how are these norms established and what do they have to do with healthcare?

How Sociocultural Norms Develop

There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of sociocultural norms, including natural resources, religion, and other belief systems. Groups of people with limited natural resources are more likely to consume entire animals, including organs, than those with plentiful resources (think t-bone steak vs. cow tongue or pork roast vs. chitterlings). Certain religions prohibit the consumption of specific animals and instead require those animals to be worshiped and praised. While our diet provides numerous examples, significant examples can be found in mental health treatments as well.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries women were often treated for 'hysteria'. Hysteria was a catch-all phrase for any condition in which a woman behaved outside of what was socially acceptable as described by her husband or father. These beliefs stemmed from hundreds of years of strictly following Protestant doctrine that advocated women's absolute subservience to their husbands. Psychology wasn't quite a field of study yet. so when issues with behavior arose, they were treated like a physical condition by a doctor. Treatment forms varied, with one of the more extreme being the hysterectomy, or translated, removing of hysteria. While it seems absurd today that such a medical procedure would be prescribed to treat depression, bipolar disorder, or any other mental health issue, it was widely accepted along with lobotomies in the treatment of mental health issues in women. This sociocultural norm led to unfair and (by today's standards) unethical treatment of women. Unfortunately, sociocultural norms can lead to a lack of action as well.

In careers that are considered more masculine (e.g. law enforcement, military) it is expected that members are strong, unshakable, and leaders. Seeking mental health treatment has historically been discouraged due to sociocultural norms holding that seeking help is a sign of weakness or at least frailty. One of the leading causes of death to military service members and veterans is suicide. This has led to numerous studies and evaluations of mental health treatment policies, many finding that the majority of those who commit suicide never seek help from friends, family, or professionals. Additionally, a re-education campaign was initiated over the last several years to encourage service members and veterans with mental health disorders to seek care before getting to a dangerous point.

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