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Culture and Health Outcomes: Essay

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Learning outcome:

  • Describe how social, cultural, and economic factors influence individual and societal health outcomes and health behaviors.

Question: What is the most appropriate definition of culture? Explain your choice using an example of health outcomes. Why does it matter?

In accordance with previous readings, the most appropriate definition I would give for culture is that it is a fluid and learned set of beliefs, values, traditions, behavioral conventions, and religion that goes beyond ethnic customs, cognitive constructs, and language shared by two or more people. The socialization process directly influences the process of learning, leading to the acquisition of all these aspects. By defining culture as stated, people can share a common understanding of life events, view life as meaningful and purposeful, and communicate effectively. The way someone expresses himself or herself behaviourally and emotionally has a direct connection to culture. People create culture by themselves. Thus it has no relation to biological or natural processes. Apparently, culture is a combination of the mentality, traditions, and religion of a certain population. The only thing that I would like to add to the definition of culture is that there is a global culture in the modern world, influenced by mass culture, means of communication, and the globalization process. It means that certain products, things, words, and traditions became part of universal culture. For example, in many countries, people celebrate Halloween, though traditionally, it is an Irish and Scottish holiday. Obviously, this globalized culture leads to unification and contributes to better mutual understanding within communities.

Let’s take a closer look at the importance of the value and belief component of culture in relation to health problems and outcomes. For instance, in Western culture, where autonomy and independence are stressed, depression is more common, whereas, in Korean and Muslim cultures, which value family cohesion as more important, depression is less prevalent. This can lead to stigmatization of depression in the Eastern culture compared to the Western one, leading to fewer reports on depression to avoid the fear of embarrassment or shaming their family.

Culture can also affect help-seeking behaviors among depressed individuals. For example, believers are more likely to use faith as the main source of treating their mental health problems, including depression. Meditation, as well as religious practices, may indeed act as an important source of support for people with health problems. Culture may make people neglect traditional medicine and negatively influence the treatment process. In some African countries, people are likely to ask for help from a shaman rather than visit a doctor. Thus, culture can both positively contribute to the healing process and make people use ineffective alternative medicine methods.

Culture plays a crucial role in understanding mental and physical health outcomes, both in its meaning and response. In particular, culture influences the perception and interpretation of different health conditions. While in less developed countries person suffering from a mental disease may be considered as possessed by demons, in developed countries, doctors would easily identify the mental disease and use effective methods of healing it. The beliefs that we hold and rituals we practice can make us view a negative health outcome as manageable. For example, in the case of depression, Muslim belief that extended family ties and a chain of social support can buffer against the negative experience of depression, which is normally associated with negative emotions and stigmatization of the patient. Apparently, it stimulates self-healing tendencies and positively contributes to the normalization of physical condition.

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