The relationship between culture and psychopathology is a complex one that has led to unending debates between researchers, academicians, and health practitioners, with many factors at play. Many have agreed that culture can influence the way we think, feel, and behave, and it can also shape our perceptions of mental health and illness. Though understanding the relationship between culture and psychopathology is a complex and important area of study.
Research over the years has shown that culture influences many aspects of mental illness, including how patients from a given culture express and manifest their symptoms, their style of coping, their help-seeking behaviours, and the nature of the therapeutic relationship.
The role of culture in understanding and treating psychopathology has gained increasing recognition in our globalised world, with new perspectives on the conceptualisation of psychopathology and the definition of culture being intertwined.
Mainstreaming culture in research and clinical training in psychopathology is highlighted in several ways, acknowledging that each clinical interaction is a cultural one and should be treated as such.
Studies have also explored the perspectives of psychopathology across cultures and among indigenous societies, viewing psychopathology as a social and cultural construct that shapes how people across different cultures experience clinical disorders.
The line between western and non-Western themes
Culture and psychopathology have been the focus of ongoing debate, with primitivist themes in cross-cultural debate being explored. Additionally, the influence of cultural factors such as family background, religion, social norms, and values on mental health has been emphasised over the years, highlighting the need to understand culture’s role in mental health to create an inclusive environment that supports people of all backgrounds.
Worthy of note, African societies in particular are characterised by diverse cultural practices, belief systems, and social norms that significantly shape individuals’ perceptions of mental health and illness. For example, having travelled to a few African countries, the communal nature of many African communities emphasises interconnectedness and collective well-being.
Traditional healing practices, such as those involving herbal remedies, rituals, and communal support, are deeply rooted in the cultural fabric and play a crucial role in addressing mental health challenges. The intersection between culture and psychopathology in African society in particular can also be seen in the way that different cultures view and treat mental illness.
For instance, in some African and Asian cultures, mental illness is seen as a sign of ‘weaknesses or moral failing, and people who suffer from mental illness may be stigmatised or ostracised. In other African cultures, mental illness is viewed more sympathetically, and people who suffer from mental illness may be seen as in need of care and support.
Though, in recent times, this is beginning to change. In other cultures, mental illness is viewed more sympathetically, and people who suffer from mental illness may be seen as in need of care and support. Yet, some other cultures may have different criteria for diagnosing mental illness, or they may have different categories of mental illness altogether.
This can make it difficult to compare rates of mental illness across cultures, and it can also make it difficult to develop effective treatments that are culturally appropriate. Also, some African cultures may have different criteria for diagnosing mental illness, or they may have different categories of mental illness altogether.
This can and has made it difficult to compare rates of mental illness across cultures, and it can also make it difficult to develop effective treatments that are culturally appropriate.
A study conducted in Nigeria found that cultural factors such as beliefs about the causes of mental illness, stigma, and lack of knowledge about mental health issues were significant barriers to seeking mental health care a few years ago. Another study conducted in South Africa found that cultural factors such as belief in witchcraft and the use of traditional healers were associated with delays in seeking mental health care.
As many countries and societies undergo rapid social and economic changes, the intersection of modernity and tradition becomes a crucial aspect of the culture-psychopathology dynamic. The acculturation of Western values and lifestyles may lead to cultural clashes and identity crises, contributing to mental health challenges.
Hence, urbanisation and exposure to Western cultural influences were associated with an increased prevalence of mental health disorders. While many have supported this view, others have argued against it.
While cultural factors can serve as protective mechanisms, they may also contribute to stigma and hinder help-seeking behaviours in both Western and non-Western countries.
Therefore, the integration of traditional healing practices with modern mental health interventions presents an opportunity for a holistic approach to mental health care.
Hence, understanding this intricate interplay is essential for developing culturally sensitive strategies and approaches to address psychopathology in African societies and on many other continents as well, ensuring that mental health support aligns with the cultural values and norms of the diverse communities within the continent.
Onah Caleb is a research assistant at Benue State University (Nigeria). He runs the blog KaylebsThought.