My life has been an interesting, albeit nomadic one. I have long been amazed and fascinated by the differences in cultures, values, and behaviors between my two home countries. There is an inarguable difference in value systems between these two regions: while the United States is built on values of independence, self-sufficiency, pragmatism, and modernism; India is largely guided by values of family, community, spiritual tradition, and involvement in one another’s lives (sometimes too much). This is turn, leads to major differences in behavioral perception of events, of one another, and of the self.
Some schools of thought believe that afflictions like depression and anxiety are “luxury disorders”, limited to developed countries. Several studies have shown that developed countries, particularly the US, have a higher rate of mental disorder globally, whereas the lowest rates were found in Asian countries – including those in conflict-ridden regions. These findings are counterintuitive, given the significant economic and infrastructural problems in many regions of Asia; however, I can say that my personal experiences, having spent extended time in both regions, seem to corroborate these findings. My hypothesis for this finding is that due to the fact that Indians historically have had more serious and frequent problems that threaten their survival(e.g. poverty, corruption, lack of infrastructure), that they have a greater connection and reliance on community, family, and tradition for survival - - and that this connection in fact contributes to better overall mental wellbeing.
With an increasingly globalizing world where countries are becoming closer to each other, it is an important time to explore issues of mental health across regions and leverage lessons from cross-cultural experiences. It should be noted that cross-cultural population studies on psychology and behavior are few and controversial, due to large country-wide variation factors that have prevented a fair and objective comparison – mainly, cultural differences in perception of mental health issues.4 In order to supplement understanding of statistical findings in this area, more observational field work is required. Furthermore, as developing countries develop further, it will be important to gain insights that will allow them to retain the cultural values that have contributed to positive mental health, such as family, community, and spiritual tradition, and if possible, spread these insights to other parts of the world.