Reducing Stigma: cultural variations in mental health

Reducing Stigma: cultural variations in mental health

The stigma of mental health varies across the world. Shravanti Shankar considers why this is the case, and what can be done to reduce the stigma.


As a former student of psychology, one of the core elements that we were constantly urged to keep in mind whilst conducting research or writing up papers was the effect of culture on experiments. A casual read through any major journal or textbook highlights the importance of culture on the outcomes of a piece of research. A significant result found in one part of the world need not necessarily translate into a significant result in another part of the world – owing to a difference in heuristics, beliefs and attitudes that shape our human cognition as well as differences in lifestyles and backgrounds. This difference is even more significant in the case of mental health awareness and treatment.

In countries like the UK and the USA, mental health is swiftly becoming an important point of focus, with the public awareness of illnesses such as Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder improving throughout the years. Individuals are becoming more aware of the problems associated with these mental health issues and more is being done in order to understand their effects on people as well as what can be done to help individuals who suffer from these issues. Sufferers are generally given the comfort of being able to disclose their issues without fear of being completely vilified for the problems they face – and while there is still a long way to go in mental health awareness in these countries, strides are being made in addressing any concerns that might arise.

Of the most commonly known mental health issues, depression is probably the most notable – it is the second leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting hundreds of millions of people. Many of these people, however, live in places, or are in situations, that do not give them proper access to facilities that would assist in alleviating their problems. They may be still in societies that face hurdles when trying to understand and discuss mental health issues.

According to the most recent WHO report, India reports one of the highest rates of depression. When considering these reports, it is imperative to remember that there still exists stigma surrounding mental health, stronger in some areas of the world than others, where it might be considered unacceptable to seek diagnosis, let alone treatment for a condition – hence resulting in lower rates of reporting. Mental health is still considered a taboo topic in certain cultures and this effectively reduces the number of specialists that may be available to individuals who deal with mental health issues. For those who can afford services, this leads to a burden on the limited number of specialists in the country. However, in most cases, the majority of individuals who suffer from these disorders also have problems accessing help in terms of disparities in socioeconomic status, as most help comes at a price. In these cases, a lot of assistance can come from non-governmental or non-profit organisations, such as Sangath and BasicNeeds.

The eradication of stigma that surrounds mental health is one of the most important steps that needs to be taken to help improve the situation of those who have to deal with the harsh realities that mental health issues entail, and it starts with the community. When the issue of stigma is dealt with, more people will have the freedom to engage in discourse based on mental health, which can further improve access to facilities that can assist those in need.


Featured Image: Pixabay

Shravanti Shankar