Culture Can Play an Effective Role in Treatment for Depression

Research and doctors tell us there are a number of things that can lead to depression. One of the most obvious links is genetics as where we come from can play a large part in where we are going. According to a new Northwestern University study, this genetic tendency is much less likely to be realized in a culture centered on collectivistic rather than individualistic values. Science Daily recently examined this study and explained that a genetic vulnerability to depression is much more likely to be realized in a Western culture than an East Asian culture. The reason is simple: Western cultures are much more focused on the “me” rather than the “we.” This study is the result of a growing focus on cultural neuroscience that takes a global look at mental health across social groups and nations. Depression is overwhelmingly the result of genes, environment or a combination of the two. One of the biggest differences across cultural groups is how they think of themselves. “People from highly individualistic cultures like the United States and Western Europe are more likely to value uniqueness over harmony, expression over agreement, and to define themselves as unique or different from the group,” said Joan Chiao, the lead author of the study, in Science Daily. Chiao is an assistant professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. By contrast, people from collectivist cultures are more likely to value social harmony over individuality. As a result, individuals in this culture are more likely to endorse behaviors that increase group cohesion and interdependence. According to Chiao, this research points strongly towards medical doctors working with basic scientists to better understand the complex dance that biology and culture play in mitigating and causing mood disorders, including depression. Culture-based treatments may be equally – if not more – effective at reducing the risk for depression.

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