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08-21 Studying Abroad: The cultural differences in dealing with a mental disorder

Posted in Mental Health

Studying Abroad: The cultural differences in dealing with a mental disorder

Mental illness is a universal condition, but so is culture. Since all countries have their respective set of traditions, beliefs and other practices, each area also holds their own, specific view of mental health and how to treat its symptoms. For many adolescents applying to college, one of their educational expectations may be signing up for a study abroad program to gain worldly experience. While having a clinical condition should not deprive a student from learning in a different country, he or she should also be aware of how the issue of mental health is addressed and how related treatment strategies are conducted in certain regions.

In an in-depth interview with the Atlantic, Ron Kessler, Ph.D., a Harvard researcher who led the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest mental health research projects, provided a comprehensive picture of how mental health care is framed across the globe. Significant statistics showed:

  • Japan, the People’s Republic of China, Nigeria, and Israel had the lowest rates of mental disorders, with percentages between 6.0 and 7.4 in a 12-month period.
  • Ukraine, Colombia, New Zealand, Lebanon and France had the next highest rates, falling between 18.9 percent and 21.4 percent in a given year.
  • The United States recorded the highest prevalence of mental illness worldwide, with 27 percent of adults in the U.S. experiencing some form of mental health disorder over a 12-month period.

When it comes to interpreting this data, Kessler asserted that the societal patterns that led to these differences are difficult to isolate. He did mention some emerging trends, such as depression’s higher frequency in developed countries due to financial competition and a general reluctance to admit having a disorder in certain cultures. In the end, smaller details are relative, considering that a fair amount of variation exists within each country or culture as well.

How a country’s economic status affects its services

In terms of how the world treats psychological pathologies, the most prominent finding is that the level of care is significantly correlated with how developed the country is and with how much of the nation’s finances is spent on health care services. According to another international study conducted by Kessler and WHO between 2001 and 2003, an estimated 36 to 50 percent of people with severe symptoms in developed nations were not treated on an annual basis. This is a stark contrast to developing countries, which measured between 76 and 85 percent of untreated, serious cases of mental illness.

In addition to underlying cultural stigmas preventing effective recovery both within the U.S. and abroad, some continents like Asia do not have the required manpower in the health care field to treat its enormous populations. A 2002 study, “Mental health and mental health care in Asia” conducted by Deva Meshvara, revealed approximately 15,000 psychiatrists for 1.2 billion people in China and 3,000 psychiatrists for 1 billion in India.

The World Health Organization has become a vital resource for providing up to date information on international mental health care, especially with the establishment of its Mental Health Atlas Project in 2011. Students planning to study abroad with certain psychological needs should reference their study site’s country to gain a better understanding of the nation’s views and if it has an adequate availability of resources. For those still struggling with mental conditions in the U.S., contact Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego online or call 866-577-3633 for further support.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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