Background: A study by Shah & Sonuga-Barke (1995) identified a relationship between family structure and the mental health of Pakistani Muslim mothers and their children. Children in extended families fared better, but their mothers fared worse than their nuclear family counterparts. The present study replicates and extends this study by exploring the impact of nuclear and extended family living on the mental health of three generations (children, mothers and grandmothers) in British Hindu as well as Muslim communities.
Method: 44 Muslim and 42 Hindu families participated in the study. The mental health of mothers and grandmothers and the behavioural problems of children (aged 5-11) were examined. Both mothers and grandmothers completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. The children's behavioural adjustment was rated by their teachers using the Rutter Scale. Other relevant variables such as acculturation levels were also measured.
Results: Children and grandmothers were better adjusted in extended families than nuclear families. In contrast, mothers were better adjusted in nuclear families. This interaction between family type and generation was evident in both Muslim and Hindu families and did not appear to be mediated by other variables such as acculturation. Furthermore, mothers' and childrens' adjustment was significantly correlated with grandmothers', but not mothers', mental health in extended families (although not in nuclear families).
Discussion: These results provide further evidence for the link between family structure and mental health in Asian communities. They also challenge some of the assumptions about maternal mental health, its effects on child adjustment and its links to systems of social support. In extended families where social support was likely to be most available mothers were at greatest risk, while their children profited and this advantage seemed to be linked to the grandmaternal presence.