cul·ture | the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

Belonging to a cultural group means to share a set of attitudes, values, goals, and practices with others, perhaps through a religion, ethnicity, or social movement. Culture is linked to our identity, offering insight to how we see ourselves and how we relate to the world. Whether you belong to the 2SLGBTQIA community, are a practicing Christian, or celebrate your French roots, culture is an important part of what makes up who we are. Today we ask you to give some thought to what culture means to you and how to respect diversity.

What impact does culture have on our mental health?

Our cultural background plays a role in the attitudes we have developed towards mental health. This includes how we are taught to cope with adversity, how we speak about difficult feelings and situations, who we confide in, and how we seek support. When aspects of our culture are rejected or underrepresented among our friends, family, school, sports/clubs, or work, it can have negative impacts on our wellbeing, as it can feel like our identities (what we know our identity to be and what the dominant culture is) are in conflict with one another. It is important to remember that humans have layers to their personalities, interests, and strengths. It is not uncommon to identify with dated contradicting stereotypes.

A popular trope in coming-of-age stories is the conflict between what parents want for their children and what children want for themselves.

For example, in High School Musical (2006) we see Troy Bolton trying to incorporate theatre culture with athletic culture. This creates conflict when his identity as a basketball player is supported by his father, his friends, and his teammates, but his identity as an actor is rejected.


Exploring elements of culture

There are many areas of culture, providing outlets for us to express ourselves, including but not limited to:


Art holds power and meaning. It can be used to educate, influence, and entertain. Art can be cathartic, as it a release for emotions through mediums like writing, dance, and music. Artistic expression is unique to every culture, and is uniquely beautiful. For example, Inuit throat singing.


What we wear is more than fulfilling a basic need. Our clothing and accessories convey messages such as our social status, beliefs, and our personality. This gives us the opportunity to decide how we want to be perceived by others and/or to make us feel connected to who we are.


We all eat, and food brings us together as we share meals and use it to express congratulations, offer comfort, and bond over fond memories. Creating food associated with our cultural heritage can be seen as a symbol of pride and be used as a coping mechanism when feeling lonely or homesick.


Traditions can be thought of as storytelling, passing on information from one generation to the next. No matter how you pass it along, tradition connects us to our history and create a sense of community. Traditions provide structure by reinforcing values and is how we celebrate culture! 


Social norms refer to the unwritten rules of behaviours that are acceptable and expected within a culture.  This could be how to react when meeting someone new, how formal to be in what company, or how to express yourself. They exist to make understanding of each other’s actions.


Language is learned.  Cultures have their own unique set of dialect and communication styles, transmitting culture through language.  Speaking the inherent language enhances group solidarity and helps us to better understand its customs and values, otherwise, key values can get lost in translation.
Demonstrating cultural sensitivity

Just imagine how boring life would be if we were all the same! Unfortunately, our systems are not equal among all cultural groups. We know that poverty, homelessness, and underemployment are structural risk factors in developing mental illness which are disproportionately experienced by minority groups. Therefore, accepting and working with cultures outside of our own is beneficial for broader society when there is space and opportunity for everyone to contribute. One culture is not superior to another!

When people develop cultural awareness, it can improve:

  • Communication
  • Trust
  • Understanding
  • Relationships
  • Empathyd

Cultural competency resources:

There are many resources available to educate yourself about cross-cultural sensitivity, including for specific populations like Indigenous peoples.

If you are stuck, you can reach out to local organizations like PFLAG Durham for direct resources or to be pointed in the right direction. Below, we have compiled some information to help get you started.