During the pandemic, 41% of adults in the U.S. reported experiencing high levels of psychological distress, according to four Pew Research Center surveys conducted between March 2020 and September 2022. While mental health has become more recognized globally as an essential aspect of our overall well-being, different cultures and regions have varying levels of support, expectations, and nuances surrounding mental wellness. In this blog post, drawing on the expertise of Dr. Erica Gergely and Antti Ervasti from Cup of Therapy in the WiT webinar “Mental Health Near & Far with Cup of Therapy,” we will explore some of the challenges and cultural influences that shape our perception of mental health around the world.
The Influence of The Pandemic on Mental Health
In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%, according to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO). An even larger percentage of young people, women, and people of color were affected. This globally unifying event, however, has shed light on mental illness and the lack of infrastructure many countries have to provide treatment.
According to Mental Health America, there was a 500% uptick in mental health screenings in 2021 compared to 2019, showing a vast increase in awareness of the mental health crisis plaguing the world. In addition, stay-at-home orders created a heavier reliance on internet services and telehealth, allowing previously unserviced and isolated communities to receive desperately needed healthcare. In particular, psychiatric help encompasses 50% of telehealth visits, while pre-pandemic, psychiatric telehealth represented less than 1% of outpatient care. While many have returned to in-person services for their health needs, telehealth use has remained vital for mental health and substance use treatment, representing 36% of these outpatient visits.
Breaking Down Stigmas
When it comes to mental health, culture can significantly impact how we perceive and approach this delicate subject. One of the most significant impacts of COVID-19 has been the breaking down of stigmas related to mental health. The conversation around mental well-being has become more open, allowing individuals and organizations to discuss their symptoms and seek help through multiple channels. This is a crucial step in the right direction, as addressing mental health openly is vital for destigmatization — but there is still a long way to go.
Diverse Perspectives on Symptoms
In many cultures, there still remains a certain stigma surrounding non-physical or non-visible illnesses, hindering the ability of sufferers to talk openly about their symptoms. It may be seen as more culturally appropriate to describe mental health problems as physical symptoms, as this won't reflect as negatively on the person reporting it. This cultural variation has strong implications for diagnosis and treatment, highlighting the need for cultural sensitivity and knowledge in mental health care. It also highlights the importance of finding a mental health provider who understands the cultural nuances and perceptions you carry to provide you with the best possible care.
Community Support and Cultural Factors
Community and family support is essential for individuals facing mental health challenges. Yet, cultural factors can determine the extent of this support. Some cultures readily offer assistance and provide resources for those suffering from mental illnesses, while others leave individuals to navigate mental health issues on their own. In certain societies or religions, it may be frowned upon to rely on an outside mental health professional. Instead, members seek faith-based treatment or turn towards traditional healers within the community, which adds another layer of complexity to seeking the necessary help. Regardless of where you seek mental health services, we must encourage open conversations and cultural sensitivity to destigmatize mental health awareness on a global scale.
It’s important that we globally begin to treat our mental wellbeing as another facet of our overall health. Let's continue these essential conversations and work together to create a world where mental health is a universal priority, and support is available to all who need it.
This blog is inspired by WiT Webinar “Mental Health Near & Far with Cup of Therapy”. Watch it on WiT’s Video LibraryHERE.