Culture has been defined as patterns that have been created over time that are representative of the members of a particular society. These patterns are not inherited but they include traditions, symbol, language, and values (Matsumoto, 2001).
Modern psychology recognizes that culture and the workings of the mind are not distinct. That is, the way in which one sees the world is influenced by the culture in which the person exists. Culture not only influences the people who up in it but people also create the culture. Culture influences the roles that various people play as male, female, adult, child, superior, subordinate, etc. It also influences the norms and values of those living in it. What is seen as a normal situation in one culture may be seen as abnormal in another (Schweder & Levine, 1984).
Mental health problems are seen in many western cultures as a set of signs and symptoms that influence the way in which individuals behave. In some places, mental health issues are defined as a medical problem. In others, mental health issues are seen as a moral weakness or characterological flaw. In some others, mental disorders are disregarded altogether(Markus & Kitayama, 1991).
Schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder, presents a good illustration of the way in which mental health is perceived differently by different cultural groups. Schizophrenia is diagnosed when there is evidence of a psychotic episode that includes delusions, hallucinations, and impairment of thought processes. Individuals who have schizophrenia also have a series of negative symptoms that include a lack of facial affect, lack of interests, and lack of volition. These signs and symptoms keep the individual from performing as most others do in the normal activities of daily living (Markus &Kitayama, 1991).
Western societies have recognized an organic cause for schizophrenia. Modern medications have made it possible for individuals with schizophrenia to regain participation in jobs, education, and family life. Nonetheless, American and other Western cultures would see this condition as needing ongoing follow up and medical interventions ((Matsumoto, 2001). These behaviors are medicated and treated.
Some Native American tribes have religious beliefs in which they put great value in visions and the unusual workings of the mind. They employ hallucinogenic substances to encourage these experiences that are seen by them as being evidence of communications with spirits. In these cultures, individuals with a psychotic disorder would be considered highly spiritual and might even be given a high role in the society ((Matsumoto, 2001). The behaviors associated with schizophrenia are valued and encouraged.
Middle Eastern cultures, on the other hand, are very quiet about mental illness. Mental problems are seen as issues within the family and individuals with these problems may not receive treatment. In some Middle Eastern cultures, these issues may be seen as weakness and in others as a spiritual problem that is representative as a separation from god (Matsumoto, 2001). Schizophrenia and the behaviors associated with it are ignored, hidden, and untreated.
- Shweder, R.A.; & Levine, R.A. (Eds., 1984). Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Markus, H.R.; Kitayama, S. (1991). “Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation”. Psychological Review 98 (2): 224–53.
- Matsumoto, D (Ed) (2001). The Handbook of Culture & Psychology. Oxford University Press: New York.