Mental Health Issues Change from Culture to Culture

Mindful Healing_Mental Health Issues Differ from Culture to Culture_01


The classic definition of culture usually expresses a group of people based on multiple factors such as language, religion, cuisine, and region. Mental health disorders differ from culture to culture. Depression in the United States is different than depression in Japan, or Kenya, or China. Our own personal expectations of how to experience the world change based on our own unique cultures, including the cultures of our home. Thus, mental health reactions and issues can look different from person to person, even here within the city of Portland, Oregon.

Why Does it even Matter?

It matters because when we focus on mental health, we are focusing on personal goals in navigating and experiencing this life. Goals and values can significantly change from person to person, as well as having a unique perspective about the world. A multiculturally competent counselor will not impose their worldview and values onto you, but help you figure out how to achieve your own personal goals, which may look very different from the therapist. Therapists who do not take a multicultural lens may try to impose their own biases onto you (and even multiculturally aware ones can too) and as such it will not be effective therapy because it no longer is about your personal perceptions.

Another reason it is important to understand that mental health disorders and issues change from culture to culture is being able to understand them as stress reactions and not as a disease. Cancer, no matter where it is identified in the world, looks the same, whereas mental health issues change from culture to culture. This is a huge shift to fundamentally understanding mental health disorders, stress, and personal development.

Examples of Cultural Misunderstandings

The culture we grow up in teaches us about how to interact with the world. A prime example of an American value and cultural value is eye contact. Eye contact is expected in the U.S. as a method of politeness, and a lack of eye contact can convey dishonesty, shame, or autism-spectrum disorders. Conversely, in China direct eye contact is considered rude. If a counselor meets with a client whose parents are from China, the client may not make eye contact, not because they are shy or ashamed, but because that’s appropriate. A counselor who does not understand this may misdiagnose a client or not communicate well.

Does the Health Care System Address This?

The health care system is changing and has become better over the years addressing mental health, but it is still a part of a system that treats mental health as a disease. This impacts how mental health is perceived and also impacts how people seek help.

Coping with the Stigma

Fight against the stigma that is reinforced by your environment. Don’t fear the incorrect negative labels. Get treatment for your anxiety or depression. Stigma doesn’t only come from others; you have to fight your own stigmas. It is not uncommon for you to believe that your challenges are from a personal weakness and you should be able to manage without help. These are natural healthy instincts and all the more reason to seek help. You are not alone, and you don’t have to be alone. Also, do not identify yourself with your depression or anxiety. You, in fact all of us, are much more than the issues that challenge us. We are foremost; family, friends, lovers, companions, and confidants.


If you live in Portland or the Portland area and want information or help with Anxiety Disorder and/or Depression,