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Mental health and culture

Cultural connections and cultural identity can provide a sense of great comfort and pride.  In this way, culture can be protective of, and bolster mental health and wellbeing.

Individuals and communities across all cultures have differing views about the causes of mental health issues, including biological, psychological, social, migration, cultural, spiritual and religious factors. In Western countries like Australia, the dominant culture places high value and significance in medical/biological understandings of illnesses, including mental illness. Other cultures have different explanatory models for mental ill health. Our cultures ‘…affect[] the way we label illness, identify [and attribute] symptoms, seek help, decide whether someone is normal or abnormal, set expectations for therapists and clients, give [our]selves personal meaning, and understand morality and altered states of consciousness

(Ridley et al., 1998, cited in Multicultural Mental Health Australia, 2002:21).

When working across cultural difference it is especially important to explore a family’s thoughts and the language they use to describe mental health and illness and how it is understood and experienced more broadly in their culture and religion.

These beliefs could be a barrier for communities to accept and support certain explanations, services and interventions for children and parents experiencing mental health issues. Keep these possible cultural understandings in mind and sensitively work with these alongside the family.

Further reading

Read the resource Cultural Awareness Tool — Understanding Cultural Diversity in Mental Health from Multicultural Mental Health Australia, for further practical information on cultural diversity and mental health.

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