Culture and Psychiatry: Challenges and opportunities

Culture is a set of behavioral norms and ideas adopted by a particular society, through which they identify themselves and view the world surrounding them. It affects how people perceive mental illness and how and whom they seek help for resolving it. Culture also offers significant moral frameworks in influencing and shaping people's sexuality. In this age, different societies’ cultures have become entwined with the internet; it is no doubt that social media has a powerful impact.

Introduction to Culture and Psychiatry: The Untold Story - Prof. Hisham Ramy, Ain Shams University

Culture governs people’s behavior towards psychiatric practice. It defines what is normal versus what is abnormal when it comes to when and where to seek help for diagnosis and treatment. For example, seeking psychiatric advice might be considered normal in some societies, while it can be highly stigmatized in others. In the Egyptian society, especially in rural communities, professional service is sought third-line after informal networks of kinship and friendship and traditional healers.

Among the multiple roles that culture plays in the expression of psychopathology is the pathoplastic effect in which the prevalence and form of certain psychotic phenomena and symptoms are influenced by cultural patterns.1 For example, delusions of grandiosity are very rare in schizophrenic patients living in village communities where seeking a certain social level is considered disgraceful. Culture-bound syndromes such as Koro and spirit possession are also part of the pathoplastic effect of culture. Other roles played by culture in psychopathology are the pathogenic effect, the patho-selective effect, the patho-elaborating effect, the patho-facilitative effect, and the patho-reactive effect.2 All these effects in addition to the cultural adaptation of treatments should be thoroughly studied in the Egyptian setting.


Culture and Social Media – Prof. Nahla Nagy, Ain Shams University

Internet shapes users’ culture; social media strongly influences individual’s shopping patterns, relationships, education, and alters their ideas and beliefs. There are numerous ideas that are gradually being adopted from the Western models – or at least are in the initial stages of debate - in the Egyptian society. Examples include early independence from the home and postponing or renouncing marriage. Psychiatrists should be aware of the role played by social media in influencing the ideas and mindset of individuals.


Culture and Sexuality: Challenges & Opportunities - Dr. Mariam Yehia, Ain Shams University

Sex is a taboo subject in the Egyptian society and sexual education to children through formal pathways is insufficient. Female genital mutilation, child marriage, and pornography are prevalent in the society. Sexual harassment is also a huge issue; 99.3% of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives, with inappropriate touching being the most prevalent form.3 It comes as no surprise that culture influences sexual dysfunction in the Egyptian society. The opportunity lies in providing revolutionary sexual education to the Egyptian youth via multiple platforms.

Our correspondent’s highlights from the symposium are meant as a fair representation of the scientific content presented. The views and opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect those of Lundbeck.


1.    Viswanath B, Chaturvedi SK. Cultural Aspects of Major Mental Disorders: A Critical Review from an Indian Perspective. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(4):306-312. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.108193

2.    Stompe T, Karakula-Juchnowicz H, Rudaleviciene P, Okribelashvili N. The pathoplastic effect of culture on psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia The role of dietary factors in the etiology and therapy mental disorders View project African Psychology View project. World Cult psychiatry Res Rev. 2006;(January):157-163.

3.   Henry HM. Sexual Harassment in the Egyptian Streets: Feminist Theory Revisited. Sex Cult. 2017;21(1):270-286. doi:10.1007/s12119-016-9393-7