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Interview with Joséphine Mwanvua, Above the Storm

“Creativity heals like nothing else!”

– Joséphine Mwanvua

Joséphine Mwanvua runs a motivational mental health blog dedicated to “guiding you through mental rehabilitation from depression and anxiety”. In the following interview, I ask Joséphine about her own experience of mental illness and stigma, as well as her ideas on how we can eradicate such stigma through education and providing support to those suffering.

My name is Joséphine, and I run a blog about depression and anxiety called Above the Storm. My goal is to educate, motivate and be candid about my own experiences. I want to let people know that despite what it seems, depression and anxiety can get better and can be managed. We must try to develop the patience and care it takes. I hope to inspire people to dive deep into themselves and nurture their minds, bodies, and souls. I created my blog when I noticed improvement in my mood and thought it would be a disservice if I didn’t share my experiences with others.

As a child, I became depressed after some time due to bullying, having my voice silenced all the time, and being restricted from eating certain foods. I didn’t know I was depressed back then. It continued into my tween years, where I felt confused and then a loved one died. Depression crept up again in university due to school and financial stress, and confusion over what I wanted to do in life and who I was. Eventually, anxiety presented itself during that time and it worsened my situation. As an adult, I was able to put myself into counselling and it was there that I found out about my history of depression, and what I could do to heal.

What does stigma mean to you? How has it affected you?

Stigma to me means something associated with a societal taboo, not spoken about, and where most people don’t know much about the topic. Stigma has greatly affected me as a child because I had issues, and twice times teachers voiced their concerns for me to my father but he denied that I needed help. We are African, and in African communities (in black communities in general) mental health is a big taboo, and anyone suffering with mental illness is typically seen as crazy. There’s no discussion around depression or anxiety in particular.

I think it’s partly because African nations are communal, so if someone is going through a hard time or has suffered trauma, friends and family will show up every day to keep the person company, cook, and clean for them. It’s like that until they’re on their feet again. I think my father is a good man, but he just didn’t understand. It was hard for me to cope as a child, so I’m thankful to have sought help as an adult.

How can we encourage more openness and honest discussion about mental health?

The best way to encourage openness is by having a raw, private conversation with a trusted loved one, either about what you’re going through or if you’re worried about them, and to continuously have these check-ups between each other. That’s two less people de-stigmatizing their view on mental health, and it’s creating a safe environment for you both to talk. If you want, you could do it with more than one person.

If you have the courage, you could take it to social media, or make a presentation on a mental health topic for school. In high school, I often spoke out on issues I cared about at every opportunity I had. I have asked people to sign petitions, too!

What are your favourite or most memorable mental health campaigns?

I like Logic’s song, 1-800-273-8255. It’s about suicide, being candid with yourself about your emotions and seeking help.

How should we conceptualise good mental health? What are we actually aiming for?

It’s hard to say, but one thing everybody should understand is that every person goes through bad days and good days, even people who don’t have mental health disorders. Someone who is prone to depression might feel a lot bluer than someone who is not, on a bad day, but that’s okay. Just be with your emotions and tend to your needs.

Why do so many of us not feel ‘good enough’?

Many of us don’t feel good enough because we were either raised with certain expectations from loved ones and if we did not meet those expectations, we weren’t given the same degree of affection. Some of us were completely ignored whether we tried to make someone proud or not.

And it’s not just in the home, though. As we grow up, we want to fit in with certain crowds, and we become increasingly aware of messages in the media. We believe in all the messages fed to us and compare ourselves constantly, never feeling like we live up to expectations or ideals. 

How can schools teach students effectively about mental health?

I like the idea of inviting a therapist into classrooms to speak about mental health, available services and therapies for children, teens, and adults.

Do you have any advice for people experiencing mental health problems at university?

Yes! I have a blog post about being depressed in university, where I mention what to do if you’re too overwhelmed by everything. Essentially, it is to work with an academic advisor to create a manageable schedule, try setting up an appointment with the school’s therapist, evaluating the gravity of your situation in home, school, finance, etc., and deciding the best steps for you to take.

What are your thoughts on the current mental health system in your country?

I live in Canada. I don’t think the system is bad, but there’s room for a lot of improvement. Counselling and psychiatric appointments are free through a referral from a general practitioner. As a patient, you might meet some professionals in the field who, for some reason, don’t care about you or have it out for you. Others don’t do their jobs very well either. But there are many who have the empathy it takes for the job, who are passionate about the field, and really know how to work with you to raise you up. We’re currently under Justin Trudeau’s liberal government, who doesn’t shy away from speaking about mental health. Trudeau has promised to give $5 billion to mental health initiatives (more services, better care, etc.) across the country over the next 10 years.

Canada also deals with suicide the way a lot of other countries do, which is if someone is having suicidal thoughts, they are sent to the hospital, and then to a mental health facility where they might not want to be. The counsellor tells you before starting the initial session that they’re obliged by law to do this immediately. I think this not the best law because it creates fear in many people to speak about their suicidal thoughts. We need another way, where we effectively try to understand them and have them see life in a different perspective. It is deep, and cuts through the complicated mess that leads to suicide. I don’t know what that method is yet.

How do you go about practising self-care? How did you learn to practise self-care?

I make sure all of the following areas are taken care of in my life: relationships, spirituality, health & wellness, hobbies, and education. Most of all, I make sure to better the way I treat and speak to myself. I learned self-care through therapy and self-help.

What are your views on CBT?

It’s not so bad, but in my experience, it’s not always effective. I don’t like the constant focus on asking me how I feel about things and then the immediate summarization of everything I just said. Many therapists who use CBT do it in a bland, by-the-book kind of way. My first therapist used CBT and sought growth in his practice by learning new ways to help his patients. He complimented CBT with other techniques. He was great!

What is your experience with alternative therapies, such as art, music and dance therapy?

Creativity heals like nothing else! Doing art, whether in a therapy setting or not, releases stress, emotions, and is a healthy way to cope.

Often, you hear advice telling you to “just be yourself”. Why is it so hard? How can we just be ourselves?

Maybe you don’t know who you are. It’s hard to be yourself if you haven’t taken the time to find yourself yet.

What advice might you give to someone struggling with their mental health?

You might have heard this before, but the first step is admitting to yourself that you have a problem. A lot of people think they’re fine when they’re not.

So, after you have admitted that, seek help wherever you can and educate yourself: online therapy, 7cups, in-person therapy, books, videos, find a healthy outlet, etc. Be with yourself. Learn about yourself. Learn to love yourself.


What is your experience with these issues? Comment below or send me a message

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Interview with Charlotte Underwood, Author of ‘After Suicide’

Charlotte Underwood is an author from Norfolk, England. In her first publication, ‘After Suicide’, Charlotte gives a personal account of the events surrounding her father’s suicide, and the subsequent process of grief and recovery she underwent.

Charlotte fights mental health stigma through telling her story and encouraging people who struggle, letting them know they are not alone. In the following interview, I ask Charlotte about her own experience of mental illness, and how she thinks we can provide and improve support for those suffering.

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I have had anxiety and depression as long as I can remember. I had a good childhood but had a habit of seeing ‘ghosts’ and making faces in walls and shadows. I always remember feeling different to everyone else and not knowing why they do not see the world like I do.

I am learning more about mental health to better understand myself as well as why my father ended his life. Ultimately I would love to open a charity that creates a safe space for youths to learn about mental health and talk to others with mental health, like a holiday which is optional and is run by mental health survivors.

What are the most common mental health stigmas you have come across? Which ones hurt or irritate you most?

I think that people either assume you are really ‘crazy’ or you are just weak and making it up. The one that hurts me the most is ‘hypochondriac’ as I have had that my whole life as an insult for being extra cautious.

How has stigma affected you?

Stigma has caused problems in my healthcare – I cannot be ill with physical symptoms now without a doctor saying it’s anxiety. I also had a doctor ask me if I tried to end my life over a boy, basically stigma is causing severe malpractice across healthcare.

What is it like to go through mental illness?

A rollercoaster, it’s unpredictable and can make you feel like a guest in your own body or mind.

Many people feel shame in struggling with mental illness. How can we help combat those feelings of shame?

It is all about awareness and making sure that when people start experiencing mental health issues, they don’t have to go through a stage of feeling like an outcast or suffer on their own. If we teach mental health in schools, children can address the issue as it happens and get the right treatment.

How can schools teach students effectively about mental health?

Start from a young age, be relatable and use real examples.

Do you think mental health is talked about enough in the media? Do you think it is talked about effectively?

Mental health is talked about in the media but not appropriately or sensitively, they use triggers and emotions rather than explanations, they make mental health scary.

How do you go about practising self-care? How did you learn to practise self-care?

For me, self-care is saying ‘no’ when you need to, it took me being sexually abused to learn it.

Can you offer some affirmations, quotes or mantras that have helped you in difficult times?

My dad once told me that we cannot be happy all of the time, happiness can only be found in a moment. So we need to stop striving for eternal happiness and instead do more of what gives us that happy feeling.

What would you say are the best things to do for someone distressed or on the verge of a panic attack?

The best thing someone ever did for me was while I was on the floor having a panic attack, they wrapped me up in my duvet and put a pillow under my head, effective and simple.

What is something you wish people would say to you if you told them you struggle with mental illness?

That I do not have to tell them everything.

What advice might you give to someone struggling with their mental health?

That they are not alone, the Internet can help, check forums and find relatable posts and people.

Often, you hear advice telling you to “just be yourself”. Why is it so hard?

Because the problem with mental illness is that it makes it impossible to know who you actually are.

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Interview with Tayo ; Tayo Project

“[Stigma] can also be connected with empowerment and inspiration”

– Mari Mendoza, Tayo ; Tayo

Tayo ; Tayo is a mental health advocacy project based in the Philippines. With Project Semi Colon being one of their main influencers, Tayo ; Tayo launched their own line of t-shirts, aimed at spreading awareness of depression and suicide.

In the following interview, I ask three members – Timothy, Mari and Cedric – questions surrounding their understanding of and response to stigma, as well as their own advice for those struggling with mental health.

 

Timothy

Timothy John Alimorong

 I am Timothy John Alimorong, a B.S. Psychology Graduate. My connection to mental health started when I was very young, when some members of my family were diagnosed with different psychological disorders. These concepts were tackled and understood further when I took up Psychology and studied them more.

My drive to learn more about mental health is because of the fact that these topics are not being discussed enough. Especially in the Philippines, the stigma of mental health is becoming more and more involved in describing some individuals negatively.

I personally aim to create a just and fair world wherein people with psychological issues are treated the same with no special treatment whatsoever. I also aim to contribute to spreading love and hope to those that have felt inadequate and alone.

I am part of a project called Tayo; Tayo Project: which aims to spread awareness and strengthen the concept of battling mental health stigmas, promoting awareness and knowledge about depression and suicide prevention. Our medium is shirts with minimalistic designs with a big impact.

 

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Mari Mendoza

My name is Mari Mendoza, a B.S. Psychology graduate from University of Santo Tomas. During college, I became aware and knowledgeable of what mental health is and how it affects people. I learned more about how real and deep depression, anxiety and other mental disorders are, and to recognize the symptoms and therapies to help out people diagnosed with mental disorders. But aside from the terminologies and theories found in the books, I was able to experience depression in real life, not with me, but with a family member. Yes, it is challenging and difficult, but if there was one thing I really learned from college on how to help a person with depression, it was to be there for him.

This was the primary reason why I joined Tayo; Tayo Project. Together with my friends in college, we decided to create a movement that would inspire others to raise awareness that mental health illnesses are real. We want to show people that there is always hope and second chances. We want to reach out to the hearts of the people; we want to show people with mental disorders that there will always be people who will understand and care for them and for those without, to reach out, spend time, and be there for them.

 

Cedric

Cedric Lee

My name is Cedric Lee and I am a proud graduate of B.S. Psychology from the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas. I am connected to mental health as everyone is. This keeps us sane and being able to function on a daily basis. The implementation of the Philippine Mental Health Act will serve as a key in opening the doors for the people afraid to seek help because of the eradicating stigma we have here. This key will also lock the stigma away forever and make our world a better place.

 

 

 

What does stigma mean to you? How has it affected you?

Mari: Most of the time, stigma is associated with discrimination and stereotypes. On the other hand, I strongly believe it can also be connected with empowerment and inspiration. People tend to believe something that most people believe in even without knowing and studying it, especially regarding mental health. It has affected me because whenever faced with a negative stigma, I am challenged to encourage people not to see it that way and instead, inspire others to help people with mental health illnesses.

 

What are the most common mental health stigmas you have come across? Which ones hurt or irritate you most?

Timothy: The most common one I’ve come across is the stigma that people with mental illnesses are incapable of doing the same regular work “normal” people do. It irritates me because people are often too quick to judge and stand by the stigma without seeing the actual potential of the individual and they are easily swayed by hearsay.

Cedric: The mental health stigma that bothers me the most are in movies that exaggerate mental health conditions. Most of the time, the setup would be the protagonist of the movie has a mental condition manifesting in  exaggerated behaviours. This won’t help end stigma but rather reinforce it. Directors should be sensitive in using characters with mental conditions in their movies.

 

Many people feel shame in struggling with mental illness. How can we help combat those feelings of shame?

Timothy: We can help them by participating in events that empower them and we can wear supportive shirts that can make them feel that they are part of something much greater.

 Mari: We should treat them the same way we treat other people, without having the thought of them being “different” or “not normal.”

Cedric: We should be there for them. We should make them feel that in this battle they are not alone. That there is no reason to be ashamed of what they are going through. It’s not their fault that their brains are wired differently. They may be different but aren’t we all? We are still human beings and we should look out for each other.

 

What would you say is the best way to spread mental health awareness?

Timothy: The best way is to collaborate with all the groups fighting the same fight and create programs together. When people see the unity of these groups, they tend to be influenced more, thus creating a much bigger community.

Mari: For me, the best way to spread this awareness is minimizing negative stigma. We should start studying and knowing more about mental illnesses in order to understand that this is real and should be attended to. People should accept the fact that others are really experiencing this and from there, there could be a warm and accepting environment.

Cedric: We can use social media in spreading awareness but be sure to provide all the correct information to the world. Educating people by adding mental health in the curricular in schools would be helpful, and support projects that has this same advocacy.

Timothy & Mari

Timothy and Mari

Who are your role models in the field of mental health?

Timothy: If there is one team that we look up to, it’s the Project Semi Colon. The people behind it are downright amazing, direct and very impactful.

Mari: Our role models in this field of mental health would be the psychologists and psychiatrists, who have endless compassion and love to help out people with mental health illnesses and unending effort to research more efficient therapies for them. But for me, my role models are also those people who are aware of the ongoing issue and trying to make a difference.

 

What are your favourite or most memorable mental health campaigns?

Timothy: The recent movement to pass the Mental Health Bill in the Philippines is the most memorable one because it was a landslide decision with no one contradicting the passage. It was one of the key events of Year 2017 for the Philippines.

 

The conversation on mental health has come a long way, but there’s still a lot more to do. How do you suggest we can best move forwards? 

Timothy: We can start by accepting and making do with what we have currently, we need to make sure that the trend or position does not waver despite criticisms and the like. We need to also mind all these factors as we move up, and then improve along the way.

Cedric: It’s really up to the government officials on how we can expedite things… But as an individual, I can help this to move forward by doing my part. That part is to educate all the people around about mental health and let them know that this is a serious matter.

 

How do you suggest one can provide helpful support to someone struggling with mental health problems?

Timothy: Do not pity them, instead encourage them through their own strengths. Have them fight their battles with smiles and happy hearts.

Mari: Being there for them, talking and listening to them, spending time with them, give encouraging and positive statements. These small actions have a big impact.

Cedric: Practice active listening because it’s a big help to be there for that person. If you think you can’t handle what the person is going through, don’t hesitate to seek for professional help.

 

What advice might you give to someone struggling with their mental health?

Timothy: Do not forget to speak up, reach out, and let your stresses be known. Being in touch with a friend or family is always the strongest element in coping up with negative thoughts and feelings. Do not feel less than what they really are in value. We are all strong and weak in our own ways, no one is better than the other.

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Reframing Dyslexia

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Dyslexia affects people from all backgrounds and of all levels of intelligence. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest thinkers in history, was unable to read or write until aged nine, and he always struggled with remembering months of the year and tying his shoelaces. Yet, he succeeded in solving some of the most complex mathematical problems of his time. In his words,

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world”.

So, although people with dyslexia can face many challenges with regards to reading and spelling, it is important to remember that one does not just have to succeed despite having dyslexia, but because of it.

maxresdefault“[Dyslexia] wasn’t my deficit, but my advantage. Although there are neurological trade-offs that require that I work creatively [and] smarter in reading, writing and speaking, I would never wish to be any other way than my awesome self. I love being me, regardless of the early challenges I had faced.” – Scott Sonnon, martial arts world champion and author

In fact, the knowledge of having dyslexia can be incredibly empowering and motivating, because it presents an opportunity to think outside the box, using creative and imaginative new ways of thinking, learning and problem-solving.

It is more common than you can imagine. You are not alone. And while you will have this the rest of your life, you can dart between the raindrops to get where you want to go and it will not hold you back.” – Steven Spielberg, award-winning director

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The ability to find what methods suit you best can make these challenges enjoyable and rewarding. Bella Thorne speaks about how she learned to tackle dyslexia, transforming her ‘learning disability’ into an opportunity to learn in a better way:

Bella Thorne

I have learned to live with it and make the best of it. I read all the time. When I was diagnosed with dyslexia, I was told to read everything from street signs to cereal boxes, and that my mom shouldn’t read the menu for me. I should read it to her! It has helped a great deal. I am reading well, but it is something I work on every day.” – Bella Thorne, Actress

In this way, having dyslexia can teach a valuable lesson about the importance of patience and enthusiasm. In the words of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone who also was dyslexic,

it is the man who carefully advances step by step with his mind becoming wider and wider… who is bound to succeed in the greatest degree”.

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Having dyslexia means that you might not view or solve problems in the same way others do. This might mean more hard work, but it can also present a load of new opportunities to find what you are really good at, and succeed far more than you ever would have, had you not had dyslexia.

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If I wasn’t dyslexic, I probably wouldn’t have won the Games. If I had been a better reader, then that would have come easily [and] sports would have come easily. And I never would have realized that the way you get ahead in life is hard work.” – Caitlyn Jenner, Olympic Gold Medallist

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A Child’s Concept of Person Across Cultures: A Socio-Emotional View

Emotions are a key factor in child concept development. Through experiencing how others respond to and express emotions, children cultivate an understanding of how they themselves should behave, and what to expect from other people. This process varies greatly according to different cultural values and moral standards, which are passed down to children by family members, teachers and peers via numerous ways of learning.

This system is complex, yet it is often oversimplified in psychological research, which tends to favour cognitive theories which view the human mind like a mechanical object.

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In order to obtain a fuller understanding of how the mind acquires concepts, I would argue that an integration of socio-cultural, emotional and cognitive elements is required.

To that end, socio-emotional theory explores the ways in which emotional development occurs in a social context and acts as a catalyst for child concept acquisition. This article will explore how this process unfolds via socio-cultural mechanisms and varies within and across various cultures.

Culture is defined in various ways; for the purpose of this article, culture represents:

“the set of attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviours shared by a group of people, communicated from one generation to the next”. (Matsumoto, 1996)

All considered, it is worth mentioning that caution should be taken in order to avoid segregating cultures in a way that treats them as a black box, or the values within them as cultural syndromes. Individual differences also play a role in how people conceive of themselves and others, and these change considerably throughout development.

Personality Across Cultures

Across psychological literature, personality is categorised under the Big 5’ personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, which are condensed from over 18,000 English trait and emotion terms. This Western construct of personality is widely used to denote a generalised “human nature”. However, this Five-Factor Model is clearly not sufficient to categorise personality across all individuals.

Geertz (1975) describes how Balinese people do not conceive of people in terms of their underlying dispositions, but rather in relation to the social role they have. They are not labelled with a unique name, but are differentiated using labels that make reference to their place within family and community systems.

Boys and girls in Bali receive birth order name from a small typical group of names for each birth order position. These names may vary due to caste, regional customs and variations in the Balinese language between the north and the south of the island.

Furthermore, speakers of the A’ara language in the Solomon Islands use a hierarchical clustering of personality descriptors centred on leadership and followership.

Geertz (1975) therefore describes the Western concept of person as:

“a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic centre of awareness, emotion, judgement… a rather peculiar idea within the context of world’s cultures” (p. 48).

Cultural Values

The ways in which Western and non-Western cultures contrast with each other in their modes of categorising personality are consistent with their divergent value systems. The Schwartz value survey has been used to investigate how certain principles are ascribed different meanings across cultures.

This survey has been conducted across more than 77,000 participants in 70 countries. Results reveal strong dichotomies between individualist and collectivist values; the former place greater importance on the value of stimulation and self-direction, while the latter prioritise unity and compliance.

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Credit: Rafael López

In line with such values, people across cultures differ in their perceptions and responses towards emotional expression. People in individualistic societies are more likely to give in to anger than those in collectivist societies. This is exemplified in America, where the expression of emotions like anger is tolerated in the interest of self-assertion.

By contrast, Philippine Hiligaynon people do not conceptualise people as having autonomous inner lives, placing emphasis instead on the importance of harmony amongst kinfolk. Here, the expression of anger is fear-provoking as it poses a threat to social cohesiveness.

This is also demonstrated amongst nomadic Uktu Eskimos who view kinship as a vital bond and perceive emotional control to be essential, particularly regarding anger, which is described with the same word as immaturity.

Certain cultural values regarding emotions also closely tie in with the environmental pressures and constraints experienced by a society. Ifalukian people live on a small island in Micronesia that is periodically endangered by typhoons. In such an environment, collaboration, compliance and nonaggression can be a factor in survival.

The cultural order that is fostered against this milieu is reflected in the manner in which emotions are expressed, linking in with wider ethnotheories about the nature of the person. For instance, when determining an appropriate emotional response to a person, Ifalukian islanders must consider first the social status and relationship history of every individual involved. This is centred on a collectivist value system that views the emotions experienced by one person as a direct influence on the emotions of another, in a process known as ‘emotional symbiosis’.

Early Concept Development & Temperament

Arguably, the primary foundation or ‘core knowledge structures’ on which concepts develop originate in the womb, as biological predispositions constrain and bias attention towards certain configurations of stimuli.

Prenatal influences of a mother’s emotions on child temperament modify post-natal physiological and emotional reactions to stimuli. For example, children can be characterised as either ‘inhibited’ or ‘uninhibited’ from as young as four months old, based on the motor activity of their limbs when presented with novel stimuli. Those who thrash and flex are more likely to exhibit shy and restrained behaviour by the age of one, whereas those whose limbs remain relaxed are more likely to be sociable and emotionally spontaneous.

Over the course of development, this emotional-cognitive system interacts with socio-cultural mechanisms, creating individual differences in person concepts. Children in different societies vary in their display of socio-emotional characteristics as early temperamental features elicit different reactions from socialisation agents.

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Credit: Emiliano Ponzi

The contextual development perspective theorises that social initiative and behavioural control are fundamental aspects of socio-emotional functioning, and that cultures differentially emphasise the importance of these temperamental characteristics.

In Western societies, in line with individualistic values, social initiative is indicative of social maturity, whereas anxious or inhibited behaviour is considered to reflect social incompetence.

On the other hand, in collectivist cultures, self-control is more strongly and consistently emphasised as this is more likely to maintain interpersonal and group harmony. In China for example, shy-inhibited behaviour from children is positively regarded and encouraged, and those who behave in such a way have more positive self-concepts than their Western counterparts.

East Asian parents also differ greatly in their perception of the level of temperamental characteristics displayed in their children compared to parents from Western societies. Taiwanese parents rate their infants as displaying greater emotional reactivity than American parents. Moreover, Thai parents rate shy and fearful behaviour in their children as less serious, less troublesome and less likely to represent global personality traits than do American parents.

In cases where a behaviour is viewed as unacceptable or abnormal by caregivers, children may be discouraged to display it; on the other hand, if a behaviour is viewed as acceptable or even adaptive, children may be encouraged to display it.

Hence, based on caregivers’ attitudes towards certain behaviours, children might develop an understanding of what constitutes a culturally accepted ‘person’ and formulate perceptions of themselves and others accordingly.

In this way, socio-emotional evaluation and responses from cultural models toward temperamental characteristics may mediate the links between culture and children’s person concepts.

The means by which parents will go about encouraging or discouraging emotional behaviour are culturally defined and reflect broader cultural value systems. Parents in collectivist cultures tend to exercise more control over their children, socialising them toward obedience and modesty, while parents in individualistic cultures show more warmth towards their children, emphasising the value of self-affirmation.

For instance, Chinese mothers engage in fewer conversations regarding emotions with their children and are less likely to help children in understanding their feelings than Euro-American mothers.

Language & Emotional Experience

In storytelling events, a child’s understanding of person is subject to reconstruction. Many East Asian parents use storytelling to communicate moral and social standards through the invocation of shame, using children’s past misbehaviours as a didactic resource.

Shame constitutes one of the four cardinal virtues in Confucianism, prevalent in East Asian culture, with 113 terms for shame just in the Chinese language. By controlling the child’s sense of shame, the caregiver alerts the child of moral wrongdoings in the hope that it will encourage the child to behave better in future and avoid condemnation by others.

On the other hand, American parents typically use storytelling for entertainment, as the expression of shame is viewed as harmful to children’s self-esteem. In this way, different meanings attached to emotions can influence how people are conceptualised across cultures.

In line with the Whorfian hypothesis of linguistic relativity, the way in which an emotion is defined within a given culture can also influence the way it is consciously experienced. For instance, certain emotions might be unelaborated or ‘hypocognised’, seemingly resulting in a lack of conscious experience of those emotions.

In Tahiti, sadness is hypocognised due to there being no specific or true equivalent to the Western term, particularly in the context of the loss of a person which is considered a minor matter. Thus, compared to in Western civilisations, relationships with others are less emotionally charged.

In Samoan culture, the term ‘alofa’ has the general meaning of love, however it is primarily expressed by a subordinate towards an authority figure in the form of respect and humble generosity. In the family context, it is particularly expected that a brother should feel ‘alofa’ towards his sister as a familial duty.

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Credit: Havi Mandell

This emotional experience contrasts greatly with the Western idealisation of love and ties in with individualistic versus collectivist conceptions of person hierarchies. However, this is not to say that Samoans cannot feel love in the same way westerners do, or that Americans do not feel ‘alofa’.

More subtly, it is argued that cultural goals and values can be socialised through grammatical structure. In collectivist cultures, imperative language such as “help your mother” is used to indicate the importance of obedience, whereas interrogatives such as “help your mother, won’t you?” are used more frequently in individualistic cultures to highlight the importance of self-direction and choice.

In these respects, ethnotheories of emotion operate as implicit and pragmatic strategies for daily social-emotional exchanges and are embedded in broader theories of person.

Emotional Expression

The six basic emotions – anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise – are universally recognised and expressed even without written language or sight. However, across cultures, certain facial configurations and expressions are found to influence perceptions of social dominance.

Models with lowered-brows and non-smiling poses are perceived as more dominant than those with raised-brows and smiles. Among children, there are reports of correspondence between lowered-brow expressions and assertive behaviour during free play and competitive tasks.

This reflects within-culture variations of emotional expression; lower class individuals are more likely to express negative emotions than upper class individuals in Western culture. On the other hand, in Japan, higher class individuals are more likely to express anger, whereas American higher class individuals are less likely to do so.

Cultural divergences are further exemplified in variations of emotional decoding. American participants judging high intensity facial expressions tend to infer a less intense experience, while Japanese participants tend to judge low intensity facial expressions as indicating a more intense experience than is shown.

Further, Japanese people are more cautious about displaying emotions compared to Americans, who tend to show exaggerated facial expressions. This is in line with how cultures differ in the kind of affect they consider to be ideal. East Asians reportedly want to feel low arousal positive states whereas North Americans preferably experience high arousal positive states.

Independent vs interdependent self-construals have been found to be a mediating factor between cross-cultural differences in the experience of self-conscious emotions like embarrassment. Americans report significantly less embarrassability than Asian Americans and Chinese, and average significantly more highly on independent self-construals.

Consequently, emotional display rules are also culturally dependent. In one study, Japanese and American participants’ facial expressions were analysed whilst they viewed graphic videos of bodily mutilation. Results indicate that compared to Americans, Japanese participants mask negative emotional expressions such as fear, disgust, anger or sadness in the presence of the experimenter, although they unreservedly showed those emotions when they were alone. This reflects collectivist notions about the display of negative emotions posing a threat to social harmony.

This type of explicit knowledge of emotional display rules has been found to be present by middle childhood. For instance, young South Asians children can understand that one can feel angry but should not show anger on their face, demonstrating how cultural ideals regarding emotional expression are inherited via socio-cultural mechanisms.

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Credit: Neeraj Parswal

This can vary both within and across cultures as a function of socialised gender norms. Indian girls are more appreciative of the difference between felt and expressed emotion earlier in development than Indian boys as well as British boys and girls, highlighting cultural patterns of gender socialisation.

These socialisation patterns reflect and perpetuate existing opportunity structures, preparing children for roles assigned to them based on their biological sex, which can stem from the division of labour in a given cultural community.

Gender segregation is understood by children early in development; at the age of three, children already use gender similarity to determine who they want to be friends with and who would share their preferences. For instance, children prefer to play with others who have similar emotional and interactional styles; girls find boys too aggressive whereas boys find girls too sedentary.

The Stability of Personality Traits

Finally, implicit theories about the flexibility or stability of personality can predict person concepts in the context of emotion.

Entity theorists who typically reside in individualistic societies tend to conceive of personality as a set of static, fixed traits. On the other hand, incremental theorists in collectivist cultures view personality as a dynamic set of qualities that can be altered depending on situational factors.

When making causal attributions for behaviour, incremental theorists are more likely to refer to the person’s internal psychological states like emotions. For instance, they suggest a fictional character stole “because he was hungry or desperate”.

Likewise, children who hold entity theories are more likely to make judgements about global moral traits than incremental theorists, who refer more to situational factors in response to hearing about the emotional state of the individual, such as “the boy was nervous about making a good impression”.

These divergent attribution styles are also evident in judgements of facial expressions. In a cartoon figure presentation experiment, Japanese people’s judgements of a target character’s facial expression are influenced by surrounding faces to a greater extent than those of Americans.

Conclusion

In sum, socio-emotional theory contributes to our understanding of how children acquire concepts of person across development through socio-cultural mechanisms. Concepts are particularised and refined via specific motivations both created by and contributing to cultural ideals regarding emotions. In this way, children’s person concepts develop in large part as a function of the cultural niche within which they are produced and influence the ways in which children behave and respond to others. Associations between socio-emotional development and culture in child conceptual development are thus bidirectional and transactional in nature, involving reciprocal influences that evolve over time.

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Mindfump: On Depression

“…pain is an extremely important element of learning”

Paul Green pic 1

Paul Green (Mindfump) writes witty, thought-provoking and uplifting articles on mental health.

After reading many of these, including The Secret History of Depression, Mental Illness Has No Chance and When Depression Was Your Friend, I became interested in knowing more of Paul’s story and his perspectives.

To that end, the following interview is conducted as part of a series of articles aiming to enlighten stories and strategies related to mental health. I thank Paul very much for taking part, for his openness and for bringing about dynamic and creative ways of perceiving and coping with depression.

Depression is on a steep uprise amongst young people in the UK, and many are turning to antidepressants as a first resort. What’s your response to this issue?

The way I see it there are two elements to this. Firstly, increasingly people want to avoid pain, and that might sound reasonable. Except pain is an extremely important element of learning. Think of children and how they learn not to touch hot things because it hurts. This then develops in later life to being hurt in relationships and learning to avoid certain characters or people. The bottom line is, pain is important. The problem is, we are becoming so averse to pain, so scared of it that we will do almost anything to avoid going through it, even if it benefits us in the long run. So it is no surprise that people avoid things like therapy in favour of drugs, drugs are painless and can hopefully cure you without effort. In the same way overweight people try diet pills rather than exercise, it is easier and less painful.

Secondly, we are in a quick fix era, and that does not stop at medicine. The world has been geared towards a faster pace of life for at least a couple of decades. We have seen the rise of fast food, next day delivery, same day delivery, instant replies via email, text message and every other messaging app. Then you have signals that are being pushed through the media and advertising which are all to do with solving issues with one product or service (and it’s a fast one). So it is no surprise to me that people want the quick fix instead of the long drawn out thing. Especially when companies compete now they often brag at how quickly you can do it if you use their product or service.

So my response is certainly not one of surprise, and I think without a serious cultural shift this quick fix, less pain method will more often than not be the first choice.

You write that you have struggled with depression since your late teens, but didn’t know it was abnormal at that time. How did you come to realise that you were ill?

Depression was certainly always present and I think I always knew something wasn’t quite right, but without perspective and experience I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The first time I really confronted the issue was after my first year of university, when I decided I wanted to go study in California. Living abroad was always something I wanted to do and I was genuinely excited to go, and to see what life was like in the famous Los Angeles. Looking back I also think I was looking to escape, I think I was trying to avoid the dark feeling and emotions I had. I think I attached them to my situation in the UK and I wanted out.

I got out and I moved to LA, but it became apparent quite quickly that my dark core was not related to my situation or location. I was deeply depressed and I was beginning to realise that this dark thing was associated with me and nothing outside of that really had much of an impact (positively or negatively). I realised I was just pre-disposed to negative emotions. Fortunately at the university I was studying at there were free counsellors and even free psychiatrists and that was the first time I took the leap and admitted I wasn’t right. Ultimately, the change of perspective (moving from the UK to USA) allowed me to see myself from a different angle. Without that change I think I wouldn’t have recognised it for a good while longer.

“Support needs to be at all levels, which requires zero stigma.”

Having lived in a number of countries across the world, do you recall any variation in attitudes towards mental health?

Massively so; it is drastically different.

Attitudes are changing all the time and it has been 10 years since I lived in some places but ultimately you can see certain countries understand healthcare at its core and the benefits of helping people.

Interestingly the US was one of the better places, they were really open to helping and had fantastic services – in my experience. And I know that runs counter to a lot things you hear from people about the American healthcare system, but that is because the issues with their system are not the level of care they offer, but the level of access to care they offer. When you are in it is amazing, and in my case free.

The best place was probably Finland, they accommodated mental health on every level and in every aspect of your life. I told the professor at university and I was instantly exempt from attending classes if I needed time to myself. I also had more time with exams and in some cases didn’t need to take any at all if it was too much. They truly understood what was needed and above all else they showed that it is possible to have business, school and a society where people can get care and take time to themselves and not have the whole economy collapse.

The other end of the spectrum would be the UK and moreso China. The UK has poor attitudes to mental health and very patchy coverage across the country (although improving I hear). China however, it hasn’t quite reach their vocabulary yet, and there is zero sympathy, understanding or care for mental health suffers at present.

I’d also feel bad for not giving a mention to Germany, which had excellent care. But yes in short, there is a great degree of difference, although on the whole it is moving in the right direction, certainly in terms of attitude anyway.

You have highlighted support as one of the most important factors in beating depression. How do you suggest one can provide helpful support?

Support needs to be at all levels, which requires zero stigma. Exactly in the way I described in Finland. First you need to feel like this is legitimate and feel accepted by your peers. You then need an understanding professional level, whereby work doesn’t force you to come in, or reprimand you if you’re not at work. It needs to be treated like physical care. You then also need a free and open healthcare system which wants to deal with your issue. Those are the key elements of support on the highest level. On a personal level you need patience, understanding and empathy.

A further element you find helpful in improving your mental health is “a space to grow creatively”. What constitutes such a space for you?

Usually when I am writing, I write from the perspective of the structure of society rather than practically. So the way I see modern society is that it is entirely geared towards analytical people, and money/opportunities for creative enterprise is diminishing. Whilst that is great for analytical minds, it increasingly means creative people are pushed into menial jobs that do not satisfy the need for creativity.

In terms of my space for creativity, I have not been able to find a job that satisfies this at all, so I purposely changed my job to part time to give me more ‘space’ creatively. I now have time to write and create which I don’t get at work. I feel suppressing human creativity, as I think modern society does, should be against our human rights. It is beaten out of people over the course of their youth until they are uniformly all the same and can complete tasks efficiently and do things exactly the way a company wants – that is the opposite of creative space to me.

I should also qualify this by saying I know there are creative jobs around, but relative to analytical jobs it is almost negligible.

“Chasing the acceptance of others will only lead to more negativity.”

You write that you exert a lot of energy into concealing your depression. What do you imagine might happen if you didn’t try to conceal it?

I certainly did in the past, I definitely don’t anymore. The reason I didn’t in the past was out of fear, really. I was terrified of what people might think and how they might treat me. I was worried for my job prospects and my relationships.

Since I’ve been more open I have an ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude, whereby if people don’t want to employ me or be friends with me over it, then they can keep walking as I have no interest in them either. I realised it is a reflection on them, not me, as I would never make judgments of other people in such a way.

What helpful and unhelpful advice have you been given regarding your depression?

I actually can’t recall anything specific either way to be completely honest. But then again I wouldn’t really talk to people directly about my depression, they just more see it through my writing. So I’d say I’ve only directly told about 3 or 4 friends. Revealing things that way means I don’t really get advice from people, good or bad.

What advice would you give to someone suffering with depression?

Seek help from a professional, if possible. Never be ashamed of any aspect of yourself, and ditch anyone who doesn’t show anything but love and support to you. Chasing the acceptance of others will only lead to more negativity. Oh, and wash regularly, no matter how bad you feel, wear clean clothes and wash. It works like magic.

 


What advice would you give to someone suffering with depression? Leave a comment below or send me a message.