Understanding Mental Health in Bicultural Canadians

on September 7, 2016 2 comments
Understanding Mental Health in Bicultural Canadians

As a Taiwanese-born Canadian growing up in the multicultural community of Vancouver, I interacted with and learned from people who spoke different languages and practiced a variety of customs. Diversity was the impetus that led me to explore a broad spectrum of people and personalities throughout my life and ultimately directed me to a budding research career in cross-cultural psychology.

Between 2010 and 2013, I worked for CREST.BD as a Research Coordinator. As part of the network, I helped carry out studies examining recovery, stigma, quality of life, and wellness management in bipolar disorder (BD). Through this work, I became increasingly passionate about studying quality of life — how people manage and live well with their conditions and how we can pursue new ways to support their journeys toward wellness.

I am currently completing my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Guelph. Inspired by my multicultural roots and the initiatives developed within CREST.BD, my research interests broadly focus on how individuals from different cultures can experience good quality of life. More specifically, I am interested in better understanding how mental health stigma and family processes are understood and experienced by immigrant families.

In Canada, immigrant individuals are encouraged to adopt a bicultural identity, meaning they learn and identify with the Canadian culture while maintaining elements of their heritage culture. As a bicultural individual myself, I was taught, through my education, the importance of independence (e.g. moving out) and openness (e.g. freely express my thoughts and feelings). Meanwhile, my family and immigrant friends reminded me the values about family obligations (e.g. live close to home or prioritize taking care of the family) and humbleness (e.g. minimize discussions on achievements and emotions). Living with two different types of culture values, for the most part, is easy and manageable because there are many similarities across cultures. At times, however, I find it difficult to interact with my family (or friends) when we have incompatible values depending on the social context. Because of my personal experiences, I have developed a strong curiosity about how bicultural individuals understand and attain wellness while having to manage such different and potentially conflicting cultural values.

Mental health, for example, is deeply rooted in cultural influences. In Western society, we are encouraged to discuss our challenges and seek treatment to reduce stigmatizing attitudes on mental health, but in Eastern society doing so may show disobedience or inappropriateness and bring shame to the family. If this is the case, I wonder, how do immigrants understand and identify with their mental health conditions, if at all? And how can I, as a clinician-in-training, help these individuals attain access to services in a way that recognizes and protects their bicultural values?

Research has shown that there is a considerably underserved population of non-European Americans and Canadians whose experiences can often be misunderstood, and as a result their mental health needs are left unmet. As I have recently returned to CREST.BD as a trainee, I am excited for the prospect of working with the network to answer some of my burning questions about cultural influences on mental health. Specifically, CREST.BD pushes forward strategic priorities in opening up the Bipolar Wellness Centre to diverse communities. Through these initiatives we will be able to better understand self-management and wellness strategies in Chinese people with BD — a clinical population we know very little about. Ultimately, I hope that we can improve the universality of mental health treatment so that it is linguistically and culturally appropriate to meet the diverse needs of a multicultural society.

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2 Comments on “Understanding Mental Health in Bicultural Canadians”

  1. Very interesting blog. I’m looking forward to reading more from Sharon Hou on the future results of her specific cultural areas of research.

  2. Very interesting commentaries, thank you Sharon. Mental health for ethnic minority groups or recent migrants (or settlers [that is another interesting discussion]) has been around for decades, and we have to tackle the issues from multiple levels… indeed many more work have to be done. I just hope that it will not become one of the agendas used/manipulated by our politicians. I lived in NZ for 20+ years and I always wonder when I can stop calling myself a migrant! Is it about how you see yourself or how you are seen? ‘Keep up the good work!’

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