Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Coventry University's online course, Defining Mental Health: A Short Introduction. Join the course to learn more.

Are mental health issues the product of cultures?

Definitions of mental disorders are also influenced by the fact that there are some disorders that are highly specific to particular cultures.

Stress, anxiety and depression

The values and stresses of modern Western life have created more and different disorders that did not exist before. Culture can produce ‘culture-bound’ symptoms which seem limited to certain cultures and can impact the way in which stress, anxiety and depression manifest themselves (Davey 2017). This can mean that even with disorders that are considered to be universal (eg, depression, schizophrenia, manic-depression, certain types of anxiety disorder and dementia), there are cultural differences in the way that the symptoms are expressed. An example of this is ‘Ataque de Nervios’, a form of panic disorder that is only found in Latinos from the Caribbean.

Eating disorders, suicide and alcoholism

Eating disorders are more prevalent in Westernised, middle-class communities (Introductory Psychology 2007). In Catholic and Islamic cultures, where suicide is considered to be a sin, there are comparatively low suicide rates, whereas in Japan suicide is considered an honourable act to perceived shame. Researchers discovered significant differences in rates of alcoholism between cultures, especially among men. The rates ranged from 43% in Korean men to 13% in Chinese men.

In conclusion, cultural differences in the symptoms of mental health disorders and help-seeking behaviour varies greatly between cultures. Research has shown significant differences in the extent to which ethnic groups use mental health services.

Your task

  • Based on what you know already, how do you think diagnoses using a text such as the DSM-5 could be influenced by either the culture of the healthcare professional using the manual, or the client?

  • How could culture alter a clinician’s perception of symptoms?

Post your thoughts in the comments area.


Davey, G.C. (2017) Psychopathology 2nd edn. Chichester: Wiley

Introductory Psychology (2007) ‘Defining Abnormality’ [Online] available from http://as-psychology.pbworks.com/w/page/9174252/DefiningAbnormality [20th November 2018]

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Defining Mental Health: A Short Introduction

Coventry University