The culture a person is raised in will undoubtedly affect the way they view the world around them, and mental health is no exception. For a person growing up in America it can be easy to use our own American culture to explain the world around us, without considering the way other cultures influence every decision made. This ethnocentric bias can arguably be shown in the DSM, which can make looking at mental health on a global scale much more complicated, because it leads a person to compare everything we know to our own culture. This is a dangerously ineffective way of looking at mental illness and can lead a researcher to use confirmation bias when testing a hypothesis or giving a diagnosis.
In the United States, most people are confident that mental illness stems from biological hyper/hypo activity in the brain; we are exposed to these types of explanations for almost all problems, whether they be physical, emotional or mental. In fact, we’re given these explanations so often that most don’t even think beyond what we’re told. This biological theory states that schizophrenia is correlated to different sizes of certain cognitive areas of the brain, or chemical imbalances. Therefore, physicians who believe this is the cause of schizophrenia will often prescribe drugs that restore the brain’s normal chemical levels as treatment. We happily accept this reasoning, because it’s what we are taught from a young age, even though we have not proven it to be true individually.
Similarly, if we were raised to believe that the cause of mental illness were harmful spirits, as shown in McGruder’s study in Zanzibar, we would also accept this explanation as fact, without needing to have our own individual proof via experience. The study on Muslim families with schizophrenia shows that one family viewed a man named Hemed as being influenced by a hateful spirit.
Additionally, according to Metzl, when police officers and others were faced with two almost identical scenarios (one involving a diagnosed schizophrenic vs. a person with no known mental illness), the subjects’ perceptions of violence increased when mental illness was involved. This study shows that a majority of the population believed people with schizophrenia to be more dangerous and violent, which can ultimately lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to an article on labeling theory by C. Trueman, labeling a person will lead them to inevitably personify what they are being accused of. This can be related to any number of accusations; children who are told they are bad students do worse in school, despite intelligence, and people labelled as criminals are known to continue to commit crimes because “criminal” is the primary label given by society, instead of “father”, for example. In other words, being diagnosed as a schizophrenic can encourage violent behavior, because of our own individual concept of how a schizophrenic person behaves.
Many factors come into play in a person’s brain in regards to mental health. The acceptable treatment of schizophrenia varies greatly on whether we view the illness as a spiritual or biological problem. Possible prescriptions can range from anti-psychotic drugs to increased dedication or worship to a spiritual higher power, such as Allah and the Qur’an in McGruder’s study. However, the treatment of illness is not the only topic where explanatory models dictate behavior. It also extends to the way we view the behavior of the person with mental illness. A person in Zanzibar will be much less likely to openly show their feelings and symptoms than a person in America, which can lead to misdiagnosis and therefore mistreatment.
Trueman, C. N. “The Labelling Theory – History Learning Site.” History Learning Site. May 25, 2015. Accessed July 15, 2016. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/sociology/crime-and-deviance/the-labelling-theory/.