POSITIVE INFLUENCE OF CULTURE ON MENTAL HEALTH
An avid reader of the column engaged me recently and implored that I unravel how culture has an influence on mental health and in this segment will try usher a response. As asserted by Satcher (2001), cultural dynamics do play a significant role in influencing perceptions, beliefs and practices of community members towards mental illness and treatment. Whilst there is a universal conformity to what entails mental illness, the illness is defined by what a certain culture perceives as abnormal pertaining to their values. Cultural practices can adversely affect mental health. For example, robing a widow in black for a year is a risk factor to mental illnesses like depression as the clothes are a constant reminder of his/her loss coupled with many restrictions imposed on them. The discussion will focus on those that promote mental health. During bereavement, we often gather at the family of the deceased to convey support with close family members even moving in to stay for a few days. This is indeed a buffer to development of mental illness as family support is critical in dealing with our everyday challenges. This gesture prevents social isolation which is a risk factor. Poverty has previously been cited as one of the social determinants of mental health. Our culture has a practice known as “mafisa” which promotes helping the underprivileged. This is a welcome practice as it serves as a protective factor hence mental illness development being annihilated. Batswana by tradition often encourage dialogue whenever an issue arises. “Molemo wa kgang ke go buiwa”, so goes an old Tswana adage. This augurs well for positive mental as individuals are able to catharsise feelings and there is conflict resolution. Elderly people are often encouraged by our customs to stay with the eldest daughter. This prevents social isolation brought by “empty nest syndrome” and avail resources for quality health outcome. Studies have shown that when the elderly do not stay alone, depressive symptoms are markedly reduced. These few cultural practices outlined above indeed shows that we do not need rocket science to promote mental health! The strategies our in our midst.