Some aspects that affect mental health globally are ethnic stereotyping, stigmatization and inequality driven by the cognitive level of global change.
One opinion about this issue was expressed by a Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her Ted talk. She addresses the danger of “a single story about a group of people”, which she believes is the main cause of cultural stereotypes. For Ngozi Adichie, this became evident when she moved to the US for her studies. Her new roommate found it difficult to believe that Nigeria’s primary language was English. She couldn’t fathom that Adichie listened to Mariah Carey, instead of her country’s “tribal music”. For her roommate, it was inconceivable that an African woman could be so similar to her. She solely knew a single story of Africans- the one that global media showed, the one that represented Africans only as uncivilized people dying of malaria.
According to Ngozi Adichie, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story- the only story. The problem with a single story is that it robs people of dignity. It emphasizes how people are different rather than similar.”
In the workplace, holding “a single story” about an employee, someone’s abilities can be over- or underestimated, which can lead to lowered self-esteem, depression, anxiety and a number of even more severe mental illnesses.
In another Ted talk, American-Egyptian Muslim scholar Dalia Mogahed (2016) talks about the way Muslim followers are perceived by the westernized people and how it affects both sides. According to Mogahed, since 9/11, negative messages concerning the Muslim people have received increased attention of the media. This disseminated seeds of fear and developed hostile attitudes in the minds of already traumatized people. Neighbors who have been living in peace next to each other for years, were now afraid of one another. People who were lawful citizens were now marginalized. The reason was that a gang of murderers committed an awful terror act under the veil of Islam and the media did not hesitate to report it with biased catchy headings.
As horrific as the attacks of 9/11 were, the consequences of such negative sentiment toward Muslims and Islam in America might have created a chain reaction leading to increasingly rising mental health issues (e.g. depression, personality disorders, schizophrenia, etc.). This, in its turn, made those people more vulnerable and likely to join terrorist gang groups as a way to cope with alienation, marginalization and stereotyping.
Psychologists believe that a reaction of stereotyping and prejudice towards Arab and Muslim population living in the U.S. turns them from sources of help against terrorism to sources of further terrorism. Rudeness, suspicion and hostility toward these people in the western world is good news for the terrorists. “Profiling” and such infringements of civil rights of these people by agencies of state security encourage a sense of victimization.
Most terrorists are young men, who are in a psychologically vulnerable, transitional period. During this period, one develops awareness of oneself as a separate individual, with various senses. In this period, there is a strong need for identity and belonging. This is the reason adolescents often join gangs and become followers of fashion, or of pop groups. Belonging to a group helps alleviate their sense of separateness and strengthen identity. However, this is also the reason young adults are vulnerable to religious extremism. Belonging to a terrorist group within the religion, provides a like-minded community with supporting beliefs. It also provides status for people who may have little or none in a normal context.
Failing to recognize that every person is an individual shaped by their socioeconomic situation, education, family status, health, early life experiences, genetic composition, etc. such distorted perception causes exclusion, marginalization and alienation. These, in their turn, when combined with highly dominant westernization of values, affect global mental health and might lead to undesirable chain-reaction.