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The Connection Between Mindfulness, Mental Health and Cultural Diversity

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto:

The term ‘mindfulness’ has remained widely popular throughout the years.

It’s usually uttered by celebrities who claim to have found mindfulness meditation to be the path to living stress-free lives. It’s also a popular word used by people focused on ‘living in the moment’ while letting go of their past fears or stressors and their anxiety for the future.

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In the field of cultural training, mindfulness is utilized in a certain way. That is, mindfulness or being aware of one’s own cultural conceptions is crucial when engaging in cultural training.

Suppose a person cannot recognize the effects of their own cultural conditioning on themselves and others. How can they fully understand other people’s belief systems, customs, etc., and embrace the concept of cultural diversity?

Basically, you can’t be conscious of anything else if you have no self-awareness.

Mindlessness vs Mindfulness

We live most of our lives in auto mode. We see this in the way we respond or do things automatically or mindlessly most of the time.

Unconscious scripts guide our everyday actions, such as waking up, showering, eating, driving or commuting to work, or cleaning our teeth. Similar principles govern mental behaviours that may manifest in words or actions. These include the judgments, attributions, and assumptions we make of others.

Our limited brain capacity is freed up by automation. Therefore, repetitive actions turn into habits, allowing us to concentrate on new or more challenging situations.

This mindlessness or state of being on autopilot, however, has drawbacks, such as:

  • Inability to adapt: Automatization is effective in comfortable, predictable circumstances. However, it’s troublesome and even destructive in new or dynamic settings. Past behavioural and mental scripts may not apply as conditions change. We become ill-equipped to adjust to new experiences or difficulties when old habits govern our reactions.

  • Stereotypes: Stereotyping occurs mentally and automatically. Stereotypes frequently affect our responses without us being aware of them and can cause issues in our social relationships.

  • Cultural scripting: We share many of our automatic reactions to certain stimuli with people from our own culture. We develop mental patterns and behaviours such as groupthink that enable us to blend in and do well within our cultural environment. These become the scripts of our culture. We exhibit a certain level of mindlessness when we follow these scripts on autopilot.

There are many examples of the tragic consequences of mindless thinking and behaviour:

  • Racial discrimination and institutionalized inequality

  • Violence against certain groups or subcultures, such as people of colour and members of the LGBTQIA+ community

  • Enslavement, exploitation of and violence against Blacks

Hence, mindlessness is the opposite of mindfulness.

Mindfulness promotes self-awareness, an understanding and acceptance of others (including those perceived as different), and a detachment from the limitations set by one’s own culture.

The Purpose of Mindfulness

In the realm of cultural training, mindfulness can help one develop cultural intelligence or the capacity to manage cultural diversity.

The benefits of mindfulness are manifold. With it, we’re able to:

  • Identify cultural subtleties or cues and patterns of behaviour that may be universal, cultural or personality-based

  • Develop empathy for and build trust and rapport with others

  • Minimize or eliminate bias, including prejudices and stereotypes

  • Open ourselves up to new ideas and perspectives

  • Increase our awareness of our own knowledge gaps so we can supplement these with the right information

  • Improve our ability to manage stress, especially in relation to anxiety arising from cultural differences

  • Make sense of new and dynamic situations and adapt

The Impact of Culture on Mental Health

A society’s culture affects all aspects of the individual, including their mental health.

In fact, your perception of and attitude toward it and the issues surrounding it are likely to be influenced by socio-cultural factors affecting mental health.

Moreover, whether you seek mental healthcare and how you find it is largely determined by the beliefs, attitudes and norms prevalent in your culture.

If, for example, there’s a stigma in your society against people with mental health issues (who are perceived to be weak), then those experiencing psychological challenges may resort to seeking professional help in secret. Others might not even seek assistance and treatment at all.

Photo by Farhan Alkhaled:

How to Promote Mental Health in Different Cultural Groups

Here are some ways to promote positive mental health amongst diverse cultural groups:

1. Recognize the stigma and trauma in non-white communities and heal from it.

Mental health is widely stigmatized in many Black, Asian and Indigenous communities primarily because of the historical abuse and injustices the colonizers once subjected them to.

The shortage of culturally competent therapists and accessible treatments in the field should also be addressed. Non-white individuals should also be given safe spaces where they can ask questions and have access to mental health resources.

2. Fight or eliminate racism in mental health systems and facilities.

Recognize the ethnocentrism ingrained in our medical systems and procedures, and seek to eliminate cultural barriers to mental health treatment.

Show genuine compassion to assist patients in creating treatment plans that are consistent with their values and worldview and promote activities to improve mental health.

3. Actively pursue education and self-awareness.

Developing awareness is essential for increasing cultural competency, particularly when moving toward advocacy or allyship. Moreover, knowing how you come across in a space and being aware of your own identity can translate into how you can influence change.

By examining yourself and our healthcare system, you now understand how to encourage good mental health among many cultural groups.

Mindfulness for Cultural Intelligence

Mindfulness is a worthwhile pursuit, as it leads to cultural intelligence.

Not sure how to start?

Why not try these 5 ways to practice mindfulness?

  • Start each day with a purpose and intention to be more mindful, more present.

  • Savour every minute of your cultural interactions with curiosity.

  • Work on rewiring your brain against mindless, culturally dictated thinking and behaviour.

  • Activate your mind by educating yourself on diverse cultures and their values.

  • Increase your calm in these spaces and empathy for others by experiencing these communities first hand.

We're excited to help you create an event or initiative to help you do exactly that. Let’s schedule a talk with your team or organization to get the ball rolling.


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