Chinese philosophy has long known that mental health is communal

Western treatment of mental illness follows these same individualistic lines. The individual is provided with medicine and therapy, which are certainly helpful. But such an emphasis on the individual can lead us to neglect communal approaches to treatment. Often overlooked are the ways in which social norms, cultural beliefs and communal attitudes contribute to mental illness. Ancient Chinese scholars understood this well.

eatures of the communities and cultures of which one is a member have great influence on the formation and expression of our emotions. It would be wrong to see anger, for example, as a universally natural response to certain events, independent of culture. Members of certain communities will be more likely to display or feel anger in given situations than members of other communities with different cultural norms governing emotion. The ways in which we evaluate and even experience emotions are influenced by elements of culture. In an interview in 2018, the Dutch cultural psychologist Batja Mesquita said:

Many cultures don’t think about their emotions as something that lives inside of an individual, but more as something between people. In those cultures, emotions are what people do together, with each other. So when I’m angry, that is something that lives between you and me.

Mental illness is often due to a combination of genetic predisposition and situational features. What calls for anxiety, anger, joy or other responses will almost always be in large part dependent on communal norms, of the kind integrated into the expectations and behavioural tendencies of individuals from a young age, through interaction with the community. …

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