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Societal and cultural differences help shape how individuals experience mental disorders

People often use many phrases when discussing or describing an individual who has a mental illness. From phrases like he's a little different or she's really emotional to more derogatory expressions that an individual is wrong in the head or crazy, in general people in the U.S. have negative opinions about people with mental disorders. Negative views of mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may, one researcher believes, have a profound impact on the experiences and long-term prognosis of individuals diagnosed with these types of conditions.

By examining the experiences of schizophrenic individuals in the U.S., India and Ghana; a Stanford researcher discovered much of how an individual's experiences and outward displays related to their condition are shaped by cultural beliefs and societal norms and opinions.

Unhappiness often breeds more unhappiness and individuals who receive explicit or implicit messages that they are different and that those differences are bad are more likely to view and experience side effects related to their disorder or condition as negative.

For example, regardless of national origin, all individuals with schizophrenia have negative experiences related to their condition. However, individuals in the U.S. reported having disproportionately more negative experiences than schizophrenic individuals in India and Ghana. The researcher believes the prevalence of negative experiences is at least partially associated with the stigma that exists in the U.S. about mental illness as well as diagnostic and treatment methods for these conditions.

People in Ghana and India tend to view mental disorders in a different and more spiritual sense. As such, the experiences of those who suffer severe mood swings or hallucinations are often viewed as being akin to those experienced by figures in religious stories or folk tales. Additionally, in countries like India and Ghana, cultural traditions related to living arrangements and expectations tend to be less judgmental and demanding thereby allowing individuals who are viewed as being a little different or moody the ability to accept and cope with their differences in a more positive way. 

While the research regarding how people in different cultures experience mental disorders is certainly interesting, it's important that individuals struggling with major depression, bipolaor disorder and schizophrenia obtain help. While not all aspects of these disorders are or should be viewed as negative, certain side-effects are highly disruptive and debilitating. Individuals often benefit from talking to a medical professional about their lives and symptoms.

Source: San Francisco Gate, "Schizophrenics in U.S. may have tougher time," Gret Kaul, Aug. 13, 2014

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