How does culture affect our teen’s mental health?

Published on October 19, 2023 by Rose Strawser

Culture is defined as the beliefs or customs of a particular people, place, or social group. The culture we live in shapes how we see the world and how we react to situations, including how we interact with others.

These different cultures can influence our mental health and our children’s mental health. For example, years ago, our mental health was something to be kept private, swept under the rug so to speak. This caused those struggling with mental health concerns to avoid getting help, avoid sharing their concerns with loved ones, and perhaps even avoid admitting to themselves that they need to seek help. Unfortunately, even with great strides in mental health options today, many cultures still hold unhealthy viewpoints toward mental health treatment. Mental health in some cultures is seen as something that can be “fixed” if the person just tries harder, or that it is a sign of weakness.

As hard as it is to navigate the physical health care system, it can be even more challenging to navigate the mental health care system. If the culture we live in is less astute in mental health care, then how do we recognize mental health symptoms, understand diagnoses, know where to get treatment or support, learn how to navigate insurance, and learn coping skills or self care? In the United States we often pride ourselves in our cultural diversity. However, that same diversity can end up separating us, creating divides, and affecting our mental health.

So how do we make our culture a better place for those with mental health concerns? It starts with us. In our home. Here are eight ways that we can help make our culture, even if it is only in our small part of the world, a better atmosphere for those who struggle with mental health:

1. Listen. Truly take time to listen to those around you. Stop interrupting or trying to give advice or shifting the conversation back to yourself. Just listen.

2. Be honest. Stop pretending that you have it all together. Be honest when communicating with others about your struggles. In turn, others may feel more willing to share with you about their own struggles.

3. Be an example. Let others see that you take time for your own mental health, by taking time to de-stress, spending quality time with family/friends, making sure not to over-commit, taking care of your physical health, volunteering, etc.

4. Treat everyone with respect. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Make an effort to treat people as you would want to be treated, without judgement. Try to be purposeful about looking for commonalities instead of immediately seeing the differences.

5. Be open. This probably goes back to #1. Be open enough to listen to differing opinions and not always assuming that you are right. Maybe your opinion will change, but if not, you’ve at least opened your mind and heart to understand someone else’s viewpoint.

6. Create a warm and positive space for others. Be warm and encouraging. Be the type of person who makes people feel better after they’ve been in your presence.

7. Be trustworthy. If someone confides in you, value that trust. Unless there is a risk of harm to that person or others, never share what was given to you in confidence.

8. Learn from your mistakes. Our culture influences us, and there will be times when we say or do something that we realize comes from the culture we were raised in, but may not necessarily be what we intended or what we actually feel. When this happens, and it will happen to all of us, take responsibility, apologize, learn from the error, and move on.

There are many programs available to help our teens improve their own mental health. One of those programs is The Blues Program, geared specifically for teens aged 14 – 19. This six hour program helps teach emotional resilience, reducing low mood, anxious thoughts, and substance abuse.

Rose Strawser

Contributing to this article is Blues TOT Trainer Holly Hardin, MA; written by Rose Strawser.