Our culture shapes our mental stability.

We have studied the differences between collectivistic and individualistic cultures and how these cultures affect our mental health.

We have depending on our origin and where we grew up different norms, values and conception of the world. Despite that not everyone who lives in any one culture shares all the aspects of that specific culture. There is no culture which exists in one uniform shape. Therefore we have to generalize a bit in this study.

Generally speaking you can say that collectivistic cultures are about the group and what’s best for the group. Decicisons are made based upon what is best for the group and the group is also the most important for the individuals in collectivistic cultures. In individualistic cultures you only care about yourself and the ones closest to you. You make decisions based upon the individual’s best and decide what is right and wrong from your own point of view. Collectivistic cultures are most often high context cultures which mean they use implicit messages while individualistic cultures are more explicit in their communication. It is possible to divide collectivism and individualism into horizontal/vertical collectivism and horizontal/vertical individualism. It’s a more specific and detailed classification than what exist in Hofstede’s and GLOBE’s taxonomies we’ve used.

Identity is also something that can create problem for the individual if one would be stuck in several different worlds of collectivism and individualism when the individual don’t know who he/she is and how he/she should identify with its society. It is the society that helps create and shape our identity.

We have analyzed Seung Hui Cho who was the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech Massacre. Cho were according to us stuck in such a breach between worlds. It may have been a contributory effect to his actions.  We came clear however that there are several sources that add more factors to his actions, for example: Cho was bullied and got to hear words like: You, you Chinese, get back to your country! The bullying and the earlier police interrogations as well as the identity problems could have led to possible feelings of guilt. “Individuals who experience feelings of guilt feels that the own self is the target for the others hostility. If the individual constantly tries to suppress the feelings of guilt there is a possibility it will turn into an inner fury which in turn can transcend into aggressiveness, rage or frenzy against family as well as others in the surroundings.” He also had mental health problems since a very early age. For Cho it was a lot of complex aspects that made him commit to such violence.

We hold it true that culture shapes our mental stability and affect how we value and look at the world as well as our mental state. Socio-cultural factors influences which disorders that can develop, how these look and which course they will take. How we react to these diseases is affected by our society. Two examples on cultural diseases are: Taijin Kyofusho, an anxiety syndrome that is prevalent in Japan. It’s comparable to the west’s diagnosis for social fobia. Taijin Kyofusho means you have a substantial fear for that your own body, body parts or body functions should insult, encumber or make others feel uncomfortable. If you have this syndrome you can be afraid of embarrass others with your look or upset others with your body’s smell. Another cultural disease is amok most normally found in Malaysia, Laos, Philippines, Polynesia, Puerto Rico and Papua New Guinea. Often a shy and reserved man gets sudden, violent and aggressive outbreaks and a homicidal behaviour where the stricken man will harm or kill others. Amok is normally seen in men, not so common in women.

There are also variations on how we look at different psychological stances in different cultures. In some cultures there is no words for depressed and depression. Not because they do not feel depressed but because it takes it toll in different ways in other cultures. You describe your depression in a more physical form then psychological form. It takes it shape more in headaches, vertigos and exhaustions instead of feelings of hopelessness and melancholy. If Japanese and Chinese individuals would feel more psychological symptoms they would still think that their physical stance is more fitting to talk about then their mental health. Asians have a belief in the unity of the body and soul where you do not show so many feelings outwards. There is more stigma related to different kinds of psychological diseases like depression, where you do not talk about it. Its shameful more or less.

There is almost never only one cause to mental illness. Culture affects in one way but it is not the sole reason to a mental disorder. An extreme personality style is a risk factor for psychopathic signs when it collides with the society in its greatness. Kind of a personality culture shock which happens in a culture.

Individuals are shaped according to the cultures we are grown up in and our actions and behavioural pattern differs from each other. We become individuals influenced by either individualism or collectivism with different grades of horizontalism and verticalism. We may not normally believe that our origin is important but it affects how we look at our selves.  Individualism breeds the hunt for self-realization but on the cost of social isolation while collectivism gives the individual social support and a feeling of belonging but also create anxiety that the individual will not live up to the social obligations. Therefore there are both pros and cons with the two cultures. There is never only one cause to the creation of mental disorders and it’s hard to prove what would be the triggering element.

Finally we would like to argue that our culture shapes our mental stability and may have had a small effect on Cho’s mental health and actions. We do realize that this is not the only reason that made him commit the horrible crimes at his university because, as we wrote earlier he had a history of mental disorders and even more serious problems but still, it may have had a minor contribution. Never the less we believe we have proved that culture does affect our mental health and that it can cause problems moving to an individualistic culture from a collectivistic culture, especially if you have an extreme personality style with either extreme collectivistic or individualistic influences.

Maria Doyle & Pontus Nordqvist 2K11

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