A Cultural Perspective on Mental Health & Stigma
Not every culture named emotional health and mental health like the way contemporary psychology has done today. However, nearly every if not all cultures understood emotions and mental thoughts. They also knew these things could become sick or problematic. Indigenous elders often referred to this as their ‘heart is sick’ or their ‘mind is gone.’
The following is a different cultural understanding of psychology compared to the conventional Euro-American cultured based psychology widely known today.
When we cry over someone, it means we love them a lot. Our tears honor this love. The pain that brings the tears is the stuff that tries to divide love.
Whether we know it or not, we are all love. Not just any kind of love but an unconditional love. The love that sees beyond our faults and blame. It sees our root and focuses on who we really are, not who we are pretending to be in the world.
We are unconditional love.
When our actions are to disrupt and cause chaos in someone’s life and we do this out of some kind of revenge, it doesn’t matter if the victim is responsible for our pain. It is our pain and therefore, nobody else can resolve this pain for us. Blaming others for our pain, guilty or not, this means that we will continue to feel and struggle with that pain. We may feel it alleviate every once in a while, if the blamed feels guilty and responsible for our pain. They can take it on for a while. But ultimately, they will heal, grow, or die and the pain will be returned to whom it originally belonged to.
It is up to ourselves, to let go of this pain. Nobody can do this for us, even if it is someone else's fault.
We all have a physical body. This body is capable of health and sickness. We can act in the world with our physical body. However, this body can also feel.
In particular, our bodies can feel emotions. In some cultures, this can be referred to as an 'energy body.’ It too, can feel sickness and health. Folks can lump emotions into two categories: emotions that are pleasant to feel and emotions that are uncomfortable to feel.
From the theory, ‘we are one:’ activity within and around us that exemplifies oneness or unity creates pleasant emotions. Activities that exemplify division between us, creates unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions within us. Emotions are a guide in life. Painful emotions are supposed to hurt guiding us away from activities of division. Pleasant emotions are supposed to feel good, guiding us towards our unity.
When we are dealing with an emotional sickness, we are often feeling uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions. Perhaps this is from an old experience of trauma big or small. These are emotions that have become stuck and stagnant. Freeing this up, releases the stagnation and there is an emotional return to healthiness. We build an emotional stoicism because the emotion no longer overwhelms us. However, emotions are not only coming from the activity that is occurring in our life experience but it is also the result of how we interpret these life experiences.
Sometimes these uncomfortable emotions can be coming from our misinterpretation of what we are experiencing in life. It takes a cognitive reframe to see the life experience for what it really is. From a theory of ‘we are one,’ whatever we are experiencing is reflected within us. If there is a mental battle in our life experience, then there is one in our internal life experience.
We all have a mental body. An intelligence that is capable of conceiving things. In some cultures, this is referred to as the ‘spiritual body.’ Misinterpretations of who we are, create stagnation in our beliefs in what is real or possible. Misinterpretations is a form of sickness. A healthy mental body is open to reality and the unlimited potential of what is possible. A mental fixedness or rigidity is an example of mental sickness. However, a creative and mental openness to unlimited possibilities is an example of mental healthiness.
Perhaps we have taken on someone’s stuff because we feel guilty. We cannot take care of someone else’s stuff even if we are guilty. This can take a bit to narrow in on who we really are because that pain that we feel so often can be someone else's. Realizing our innocence and releasing someone else’s stuff is one healing journey.
The other is, we blame others because we can’t bear to feel our own guilt. In other words, we know we are guilty but we are pretending we are not. We are in a position where we have displaced our uncomfortable emotions and mental rigidity on to someone else. We are now indebted to this person(s) we have displaced our guilt on. From a theory of ‘we are one,’ we are equal and we all experience the life we came to experience. We must have the integrity to face the life we have led. If we were pretending to be divided and taking advantage of others, we simply turn the other way and walk into our grace and acceptance of others. If we keep pressing against this made-up world we have created, it is going to hurt. If we accept who we are and follow the guidance our heart provides, it gets so much easier. We find grace for ourselves and everything else. This is another healing journey.
For most, we will experience both healing journeys at some point.
The Three Bodies
These three bodies provide the human experience: the physical body, the emotional body, and the mental body. Activity within and around us that exemplifies division, creates emotional discomfort in the emotional body. It also irritates our misinterpretations and says it’s different than we think. It also creates actual physical discomfort in our physical body which if left unchecked, can turn into disease. Activity that exemplifies unity, creates healing and pleasantness in all our bodies.
Historical Stigma of Mental Health
Our world is slowly coming into accepting that the emotional and mental health needs as human beings are just as important as our physical health needs. However, there is still stigma in our older generations and in some cultures around the world.
Our physical body’s health is obviously important. Our emotional and mental bodies can grow sick and often precede physical disease. Our emotional and mental bodies automatically provide us guidance to what is best for us and everything. Ignoring these bodies means we are continually struggling with similar difficult emotions and maintaining a mental rigidity. This will ultimately lead to disease that conventional medicine may struggle to resolve, like cancer, heart disease, dementia, and so on.
What is the stigma about then? For some, it is about saving-face and maintaining a sense of privacy. Some cultures specifically say, keep family and personal issue to yourself. The point of this is to keep the problem from spreading as one person often takes it out on others. However, talking to an elder, spiritual healer, or psychological health provider; they know and some are trained to not take on these problems. They are also trained to look at things unconditionally. They have learned that folks struggle with different things and blaming them doesn’t help with anything. These judgements could just as easily be turned on the helpers. Regardless, the stigma around mental health is misunderstood when it comes to different cultures seeing it as a concern for making the problem worse.
Another concern is viewing our mental health issues as a sign of weakness. However, weakness comes from an inability to face physical, emotional, and mental pain. Numbing or ignoring these things doesn’t make them go away and it is a sign of our lack of courage to face difficult emotions and maintain a mental flexibility. It could be easily argued that weakness is a fear of difficult emotions and a mental stubbornness. Those that argue psychological issues are a sign of weakness likely are dealing with a weakness and inability to deal with these aspects in their personal psychological health.
Today, many youth have stopped talking to their elders. In a world with instant information world-wide, ‘what do elders know’ is the common attitude. The problem with this is, the internet lacks situational immediacy. It lacks context, complexity of people’s personalities, variances in culture, and a sense of cause and effect in the human psyche. It lacks the dynamic nature of how life really is. Computer programs or artificial intelligence follow an X/O format or a black and white base. The human psyche is far from black and white. The kind of wisdom we seek can only come from an elder.
It’s not like we can only speak to our blood relatives but we can speak with elders we look up to and respect. They likely have the wisdom we seek.
Our ancestors knew we needed to take care of our emotional and mental bodies. The elders were always there to help. However, we’ve grown into a world that doesn’t value elders and their wisdom. From a commercialized perspective, the elderly are no longer producing anything and typically not consuming that much. This contemporary culture is more inclined to see our elderly as a nuisance or burden because of this circumstance. This is often echoed from the mouths of our elderly.
We have our elderly here for help. We also have psychological professionals for help. Failing to acknowledge the need for a healthy emotional body and mental body is naïve. Taking care of our emotional and mental body is essential for physical health. We don’t have to rehash every detail of our past. We simply need to let the old painful emotions go and open ourselves up to new possibilities and perspectives.
How has your emotional body been doing? Does it feel numb? Is it emotionally all over the place. Do we feel emotionally unstable? Our emotional body is likely in need of some attention.
How has your mental body been doing? Do you feel a stubbornness with in. Do things happen that don’t make sense to us? Are we confused as to why certain events keep happening in our lives? Are our thoughts overly critical of ourselves. Does our world appear very limited to us? Our mental body is likely in need of some attention.
Addressing emotional and mental issues can reflexively address our physical issues. The stigma around mental health is unfounded. Approaching emotional and mental issues from a different cultural perspective can free up some of the mental rigidity in how we look at our issues and allow painful emotions to move through us rather than holding on to them.