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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


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. Foucault 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 mental health charity Time to Change


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.   


The 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. Foucault, 1975/1979, p. 198 explains that
“The docile body is subjected,
used, transformed and improved”. 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. 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 societies.


Another 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 Mental Health Foundation


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


To conclude, I believe that the stigma
surrounding mental health in ethnic communities can be caused by a wide variety
of reasons. I believe that it largely comes down to the pressure of having to
live up to a stereotype 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 – the idea of a docile body
can also cause implications. The docile body comes into relation here as it is
described and a transformed body. With each community comes a standard which
has subconsciously been placed on them, good or bad. 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. I see the docile body 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. To be able to interchange between the communities, it requires discipline
and that can also be a hard skill to interchange which is why it can have a
negative impact on the individual. Culturally, I think a lot of the issues stem
from the societal norms that have been passed down with no room for adjustments
and due to this, the impact of the problem appears to be growing larger and

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