Mental the gap between the understanding of mental

Mental health is a
socially initiated, as well as socially demarcated concept that is present in
all different societies, groups and cultures. There
are many ways in which the nature of mental health is hypothesized which
largely involves looking at the causes of the health problem and finding a
balance as to what can be determined as a healthy or an unhealthy mind which
would then help to determine the right type of treatment. There are many
factors which are/should be implemented when trying to determine the right type
of treatment and this would include looking at the variety of class, political
and religious background(s) as well as the cultural variances from one
individual to another. However, this is not always applied which has ended up
widening the gap between the understanding of mental health in certain
communities and the ways in which an impacted individual can receive help. In
this essay, I will be exploring the cultural implications that prevail when
discussing mental health, primarily focusing on the reaction it garners from
the Asian community and why there is such a large stigma on mental health
issues within this particular community which will include looking at the
disparities in discipline and the importance of discipline culturally as well
as how misconceptions of mental health can contribute to the social stigma of
the subject. I also intend to look at the docile body in relation to the
cultural implication of mental health and lastly, I will also be looking at how
the treatments available for mental health may not be suited for people of
different ethnicities.    


Mental health is an issue that has an impact on people
of all genders, race, and ages; every
generation has a different way of viewing
the stigma that surrounds the mere term of ‘mental health’. When looking at
mental health and the stigma that is frequently accompanied with the issue, it
is often found that many people of ethnic minorities choose not to reach out
and there are many underlying reasons for this, but conducted research has time
and again proven that the largest cause for people of colour/ethnic minorities
to not reach out largely has to do with their cultural upbringing and teaching
regarding the mind and body. Marcia
Carteret (2012, Dimensions of Culture) states that “People with mental health problems in all
communities’ face stigma and discrimination. But there are different challenges
and cultural issues in different communities” In many ethnic communities, there is a lack of understanding about the
seriousness of mental health which usually results in a lot of it being
misunderstood for disobedience and unnecessary fragility. But the
discrimination can root from the cultural standards an individual has been
bought up with which differs from ethnicity to ethnicity. The
most important entity in the Asian community would be the notion of discipline.

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Discipline is defined
by Oxford Dictionaries as “The practice of training people to obey
rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience”. In
many ways, discipline within the Asian community can add to the stigma surrounding
mental health as a large part of Asian society to surpass in all aspects of
life; Asians as individuals tend to view the mind and body in a holistic
therefore it stands to reason that the idea of having somewhat of a
complication in mind will cause a complication in everyday life. They are
therefore taught to discipline themselves in all aspects of life and can fail
to identify or admit that the pressure of having to excel is placing stress on
them mentally. This can also be due to the way discipline is used in the
community; it differs from the use of (physical) strength as it is a method
used to convince the mind and body that they are being guided as opposed to
moulded to fit into societal standards, as a result making it feel as though it
is a natural behaviour for them to adopt and that anything outside of excelling
is to some extent abnormal.


The impact that the
idea of discipline can have on a community as a whole has been present from
past generations and passed on to newer generations both consciously and
subconsciously. Michael Foucault, 1967 page
170 states that “Discipline ‘makes’
individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals
both as objects and as instruments of its exercise. It is not a triumphant
power…it is a modest, suspicious power, which functions as a calculated, but
permanent economy.” From this, we can interpret the cause and effect behind
the idea of discipline within the Asian community; the fact of the matter is
that the differences between society and culture have been blurred. Culture is a
sum of practices, moral values and principles that are handed down through
generations whereas society can be seen as social groups and their stereotypes.
There is a stereotype built around each and every ethnic minority with the
stereotypical Asian individual having to live up to the standards of surpassing
in all aspects possible – throughout the many stages of life, the Asian
community in particular discipline both mind and body in order to be able to
meet the standards that are set for them; what was initially expected of a
group of individuals became the norm for the community and is being implemented
and passed down from generation to generation as behavioural standards thus
reinforcing the idea of a permanent economy. The concept behind it is that the
individuals that meet the standards set for them by either their elders or
society make up the ideal economy. The idea of discipline therefore reflects on
some, if not all, characteristics of general life for the community. According
to Time to Change’s report titled ‘Family Matters: A report into attitudes towards
mental health problems in the South Asian Community in Harrow, North West London’,
2010, page 7


Adherence to social norms is the key to achieving and
maintaining respect and standing within the community. These include doing well
academically, being married, having children and being employed. Living outside
of these norms, whether through poor academic achievements or having a mental
problem can be considered abnormal and damage the reputation and standing of
the person with the mental health problem and their immediate family,
reinforcing feelings of shame and the need for secrecy.


This statement
highlights a valid reason as to why mental health is an issue in the community.
Somehow, the actions of the individual not only reflect upon themselves but can
also fall on the shoulders of their (immediate) family which can cause
difficulties in both the long run and the short run in the community, giving
individuals more of a reason to not speak up about their problems. This links
back to the idea of discipline and also brings us to the topic of honour. In an
Asian community, discipline would include outshining and outshining would mean
a good name and image hence leading to honour. On the other hand, if someone
was struggling to achieve/fit the mould due to an illness such as anxiety or
depression, it would be see as an act of disobedience from the individual. In
other words, discipline is rewarded but as mental health, which can be seen as
an act of disobedience, is not, which is why many people tend to remain quiet
on the subject.


In relation to the
idea of an act of disobedience, there are other factors which can widen the gap
in the cultural understanding of mental health, one of these factors being the
fact that there is a misconception about the causes of mental health.   


1. Racial and ethnic
composition by religious group


chart above displays ethnic religions. Though some, very few people from ethnic
minorities identified themselves as unaffiliated. With this in mind and
purposefully generalizing, we can assume that the majority of an ethnic community tend to
have a strong religious background; in particular, if we look at the percentage
of Asians who identify as unaffiliated, we will see that it is as small as five
percent. Religion and culture has a very fine line drawn between the two and
more times than not, both of these factors become intertwined. That being said,
one of the misunderstandings that is thoroughly prominent is Asian culture
(particularly in South East Asian culture), is that it is the in some form, God
is punishing the individual and even the family for having done something out
of norm before. The issue is that mental health becomes a ‘punishment’ which
can damage the reputation of a family – it goes against the idea of admiration
as in the Asian community, having to admit that one suffers from a mental
health problem can go as far as damaging the family’s reputation within the
community which could later lead to problems finding possible marriage
protectives. As previously noted in Time
to Change’s statement, “Adherence to social
norms is the key to achieving … These include doing well academically, being
married, having children and being employed”. Mental health can
therefore be seen as immensely damaging in the Asian community because it can
slow you down in more ways than one. The misunderstanding goes around as “it’s
God’s will” or that the individual does not belong to a good family and it
results in the individual feeling as though they have failed more than one
aspect of their lives.


We can also look at
the cultural implications of mental health in terms of the docile body. Michael Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 198 explains
that “The docile body is
subjected, used, transformed and improved”. The docile body can be seen as both a physical and mental entity, and I
believe that there are many forms of the docile body, each tailored to fit
specifically different aspects of an individual’s life. There are many forms
of the docile body in everyday life; students for example can be seen as docile bodies as they are trained to
think and act in the discipline of study that they have chosen. In terms of
culture, this can be seen as the individual’s effort to adhere to society and
the norms it has set out for them. The docile body, who in this case would be
the member of the community, is subjected to change due to the pressures that
is put on them from their community/society as a whole – this can be seen as a
form of bettering themselves for a greater good but ultimately, when it ends up
doing the opposite for them, i.e. putting mental pressure on them, the bodies
are more or less tossed aside as they would be seen as let-downs. To be able to interchange between the
communities requires discipline and that can also be a hard skill to interchange
which is why it can have a negative impact on the individual. The reason why the
docile body can be interpreted as a cultural implication is because the docile
body can be seen as the model body within a community. It is yet another image
to mould oneself into. And much like not fitting the norm in society, if you do
not fit the mould of the docile body, it could bring about similar
‘punishments’ such as communal gossip and the degradation of the family name
and honour within the community. In some way, the docile body can be seen as
the limit one should strive to be, and this could be applied to all forms of


cultural implication in terms of mental health and ethnic communities is the
lack of diversity when it comes to the treatment of the illness. In reference
to an article written for Mental Health


Research has suggested
that Western approaches to mental health treatment are often sustainable and
culturally inappropriate to the needs of Asian communities. Asian people tend
to view the individual in a holistic way, as a physical, emotional, mental and
spiritual being.


is being described here is the view of the mind and body through the eyes of a
group of individuals representing the Asian community. The idea of a treatment
being culturally inappropriate further
emphasizes the idea that cultural and traditional views have not been taken
into perspective when designating a treatment which, even for the newer
generation, may cause uncertainty and would decrease their chances of reaching
out for support. This is due to the difference in upbringing that Asians
experience in comparison to the Western household. The history of Asian beliefs
points us in the direction of all the elements of the body working together;
mind working with body, heart working with soul. This can also be linked with
the religious aspect of the Asian community as research shows that a large
percentage of the Asian community have religious faith which tends to leave
them caring for themselves in a holistic manner. We can also infer from this
passage that Western approaches to mental health may interfere with cultural
beliefs and would also therefore result in mental health being looked at
negatively in ethnic communities. A lot of the Western approaches towards
treatment and help require showing a much more vulnerable side to oneself
however, this may not always be the correct approach to take for all the ethnic
groups. If for example we look at Marcia
Carteret (2012, Dimensions of Culture), we can see that it provides us with
research that states “Self-control is expected and individuals should demonstrate inner
stamina and strength to tolerate crisis.” For the simple reason of having to show
self-control, approaches such as therapy may be deemed uncomfortable, degrading
and looked down upon due to the fact it differs to the cultural expectation of
a person. In the most extreme of cases, hospitalisation would not appear as
much of a favourable option either as in Asian culture, an extended family is a
model family but can be both helpful and isolating for the person – isolating
due to the fact that if the individual’s family felt shame surrounding the
person’s mental health issue, the individual may find themselves feeling a lack
of support in the worst-case scenarios.


To conclude, I believe that the stigma
surrounding mental health in ethnic communities can be caused by a wide variety
of reasons including the ones that have been discussed in this essay. I believe
that it has to do with the pressures of having to live up to a stereotype or certain
standard set within said community but can also be contributed to by the
cultural indifferences and lack of tailored resources specifically designed
with cultures and tradition in mind. A lot of the cultural implications
surrounding mental illness come about from the lack of understanding and the
further lack of education in the subject within the community. Culturally, I
think a lot of the issues stem from the societal norms that have been passed
down with little to no room for adjustments and due to this, the impact of the
problem appears to be growing larger and larger. The docile body for example can
be seen as both a cultural factor as well as a societal factor as with each
community comes an expectation of its individuals which has (sub)consciously
been placed on them though it may or may not prove to be beneficial towards them.
Some will work to meet the standards, others will have to work to get past the
stereotype but here, the docile body is represented as the body that is working
hard to not fall outside the norms by almost ignoring what they would see as a
fault simply due to the fact that they have a standard to meet and surpass. When
looking at mental health, it is important to consider all features of a person’s
life – this way it would be easier to work around the restrictions that culture
may have implemented in terms of the idea of mental health which would help to normalise
or at least moderate the concept that a mind can be unhealthy but not a defect or
a reason for secrecy in the eyes of those who remain impartial to it due to the
dismissal of it in their domestic lives.