Attitudes toward mental health often vary between people of different cultures. Their teachings and religious beliefs often affect the way they view the mentally ill, and the nature of mental health itself.
Mental health does not discriminate; people of all cultures are affected. In 2017, the World Health Organization reported that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders in their lifetime, but because of the negative stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional.
For many cultures, mental illness is a taboo subject — something that doesn’t require medical assistance. Some believe it doesn’t exist at all. The topic of mental health makes people uncomfortable and, because of this, stigmas and discrimination can develop.
Amath Thiam, a senior computer engineering major, who moved to America from Senegal, Africa in 2010, notes how mental health is not discussed in his culture.
“People keep that type of stuff to themselves, most of the time it’s kept secret because you don’t want them to see you in a certain way,” Thiam said. “My parents never had a conversation about mental health, it’s not discussed they will never talk about it because of pride and culture.”
According to a 2007 study published by the Journal of the National Medicine Association, approximately 63 percent of African Americans viewed depression as a “personal weakness,” 30 percent reported that they would deal with depression themselves and only one-third reported that they would accept medication for depression if prescribed by a medical professional.
Dr. Zebulon Vance Miletsky, an assistant professor of Africana studies, believes that years of adversity have caused African Americans to seek an inner strength.
“I think part of it is a function of being a very strong people,” Miletsky said. “In the face of all these adversities, out of the reality of our oppression and our struggles in various ways, you would be hard pressed to think of a group that’s struggled more in the United States. And because of those things, it has created an independence — an ability to deal with things internally. Now is that always a good thing? I don’t know. That’s the question.”
Mental health does not discriminate based on age either. The Child Mind Institute reported in 2015 that of the 74.5 million children in the United States, an estimated 17.1 million have or had a psychiatric disorder. This number eclipses that of children with cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.
Despite these statistics, people like Rohani Sharma, a senior computer science major, still have to deal with cultures that don’t believe young people can suffer from mental health problems.
“I grew up in traditional Indian house,” Sharma said. “If you’re depressed during your younger years, they say there’s no way you’re depressed, they won’t believe it they won’t acknowledge it, this is every Indian family, they don’t acknowledge that you can have mental problems at a young age.”