Cultural Identity & Mental Health: Empower Your Mind

By Bryn Durocher

Define Culture
Culture can be many things. It can be heritage, ethnicity, or race and can even be seen within social groups. Culture expresses values, norms, and beliefs (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021). Values are thoughts and morals that we find essential. Norms are practices that are common within a culture, and beliefs are, well, what we believe in. You may have heard the term “work culture,” or maybe you are part of a group of athletes who share a love for the same sport. Nevertheless, these cultures are not what we want to focus in this post. We want to focus on cultural identity, which you might relate to nationality, ethnicity, religion, or otherwise. 

Researchers have shown that our culture and everything that encompasses it influences our experiences and view of mental health (NAMH, 2023) positively and negatively. The National Alliance on Mental Health states it may “influence what treatments, coping mechanisms, and supports work for us.” One might think that this makes it more challenging to find the proper treatment, but luckily there are many varieties of treatments and therapies for better mental health. Feel comfortable discussing with your clinician which treatment is proper for you. It might be a behavioral therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or you want to talk to someone. There is no wrong answer.

Culture is a part of our identity, and it is woven throughout our experiences and memories (NAMH, 2023). For example, when finding a clinician, it may be beneficial to find one that understands your cultural beliefs and values (NAMH, 2023) because culture is such a massive part of life. “Cultural safety,” meaning awareness of culture, should be the goal for clinicians (CMHA 2014).

Cultural practices and beliefs are essential for mental health (NAMH, 2023). One study led by Harvard professor Tyler VanderWheele found that prayer had many significant positive effects on mental health and caused fewer depressive symptoms (Whitley, 2019). Other studies found prayer necessary for recovery from mental illness (Whitley, 2019). Prayer is a part of many cultures, but this is just one cultural practice that influences positive mental health: Participating in cultural norms, in general, can increase feelings of belonging (Allen et al., 2021), which is a positive feeling for mental health. The Child and Youth Planning Table of Waterloo Region is one source that explicitly mentions belonging as being an essential concept for youth mental health. 

Cultural practices and beliefs may influence how you think about mental health (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021). You may have heard negative talk about mental health, called stigma, within your culture, or perhaps you have an extended knowledge of mental health due to culture-specific disorders (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021). You may have a different view of mental health issues, such as whether they are worth seeking help for (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021). If you are ever contemplating seeking help, it would be beneficial to remind yourself that it can be for numerous things: suffering, impairment, life problems, coping skills, or even just becoming the best version of yourself. 

Coping methods also vary from culture to culture. For example, some Asian American cultures have been found to not think about sad or stressful things, choosing not to express feelings (Office of the Surgeon General, 2021). While this may feel good initially, avoidance tends to cause more stress: the problem remains unsolved, and there is less social support if problems are kept internally (Scott, 2022). 

Culture may also influence whom you speak to about your struggles (CMHA, 2014). You may feel better speaking to a family member or a faith leader before seeking a clinician (CMHA, 2014). It supports you further, ensuring you do not have to go through your situation alone. helps by ensuring you can talk to someone in your cultural language. Speaking in your cultural language is another practice that can increase well-being and belonging. 

Let us talk about shame. Collective (focusing on the needs of a group) cultures may face more shame than others due to high expectations (Yakeley, 2018). There are consequences in certain cultures if shame is brought upon that culture, including violence, isolation, and otherwise (Yakeley, 2018). Shame is often felt towards mental illness as well due to cultural stigmas. It is essential to recognize feelings of shame so that you can find help for them (Yakeley, 2018). Some Western cultures have more recently been trying to work on acknowledging the role of shame towards mental struggles and illness, and engaging in this practice can bring you a sense of peace towards your problems.

Practicing culture can be helpful to against discrimination and prejudice (Cruz, 2021). Cruz (2021) calls it a protective factor. As you might already know, a protective factor protects against risk factors (things that influence poor mental health). As Robert Alan said, “Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity.” Robert Alan reminds us that “collective strength” comes from culture. 

Honestly, after immigrating to a new place, it may be challenging to find time to practice your culture and beliefs. As stated, some thoughts, stigmas, or “mindsets” passed through different cultures may not favor you, so it is crucial to find support and belonging. Here are a few tips and tricks to navigate the impact of culture on mental health and wellbeing
1. Being open to exploring any stigma you might feel toward mental health practices is helpful. And importantly, the benefits of cultural practices and beliefs are pleasant and can help you cope with new environments and feelings.
2. Try to make time for your culture in small or big ways. For example, pray every morning before leaving house for work or to attend college or to meet a friend.
3. Explore communities around you. Search for neighborhood pages on social media platforms such as Facebook and join them
4. Find what is right for 
you. Do not become shy or lose confidence regarding your mental health; always advocate (supportively communicate) for your needs.

It may be not easy, but it will be worthwhile for your present and future self.


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Cross-cultural mental health. CMHA British Columbia. (2016, July 14).

Cruz. (2021). City University of New York (CUNY) CUNY Academic Works.

Gonzalez, M. B., Aronson, B. D., Kellar, S., Walls, M. L., & Greenfield, B. L. (2017). Language as a Facilitator of Cultural Connection. Aboriginal. Journal of indigenous studies and first nations’ and first peoples’ culture, 1(2), 176–194.

Identity and cultural dimensions. NAMI. (2023).,and%20supports%20work%20for%20us

Mental health, culture, race, and ethnicity : a supplement to Mental health, a report of the Surgeon General. (2001). U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General.

Elizabeth Scott, P. (2022, October 31). Why avoidance coping creates additional stress.

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Sussex Publishers. (2019). Prayer and mental health.
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Yakeley. (2018). Shame, culture and mental health. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 72(sup1),S20–S22.