Cultural stereotypes of women from South Asian communities: mental health care professionals' explanations for patterns of suicide and depression

Soc Sci Med. 2002 Sep;55(5):835-45. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(01)00220-9.


Low rates of treated depression and high rates of suicide in women from some South Asian communities are evident in epidemiological studies in the UK. It is argued here that explanations for these apparent differences are likely to be located in stereotypes of repressive South Asian cultures. This small scale study, utilising focus groups and individual interviews, sought to explore the construction of cultural stereotypes within mental health discourse with specific reference to stereotypes of women from South Asian communities. Mental health carers from a UK inner city area of relatively high social deprivation were targeted. Focus groups were conducted with a range of mental health care professionals who worked in both inpatient and outpatient mental health care services. In addition, individual interviews were conducted with consultant psychiatrists and General Practitioners. Extensive reference is made in this paper to the content of focus groups and interviews and how health carer's knowledge about and experience of South Asian cultures and caring for women from these communities was contextualised. Mental health care professionals constructed cultural difference in terms of fixed and immutable categories which operated to inferiorise Britain's South Asian communities. It is argued that their knowledge is constructed upon stereotypes of western culture as superior to a construction of eastern cultures as repressive, patriarchal and inferior to a western cultural ideal. Ultimately, it is argued that these stereotypes become incorporated as 'fact' and have the potential to misdirect diagnosis and therefore, also misdirect treatment pathways.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asia, Western / ethnology
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Culture*
  • Depressive Disorder / ethnology*
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prejudice*
  • Psychiatric Nursing*
  • Social Environment
  • Social Work, Psychiatric*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Suicide / ethnology*
  • Urban Population
  • Women's Health*
  • Workforce