Cultural differences in conceptual models of depression

Soc Sci Med. 2005 Apr;60(7):1625-35. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.08.011.


Members of ethnic minority groups are less likely than white middle class people to seek professional treatment for depression and other mental health problems. One explanation is that the former conceptualize depressive symptoms as social problems or emotional reactions to situations, while the latter are more apt to view depression as a disease requiring professional treatment. Though considerable evidence supports this hypothesis, it is rarely explored directly through cross-cultural comparisons. The present study compares conceptual models of depressive symptoms in two diverse cultural groups in New York City (USA): 36 South Asian (SA) immigrants and 37 European Americans (EA) were presented with a vignette describing depressive symptoms and participated in a semi-structured interview designed to elicit representational models of the symptoms. Results indicate pervasive differences in representational models across the two groups. SA participants identified the "problem" in the vignette in largely social and moral terms. Suggestions for management and health seeking in this group emphasized self-management and lay referral strategies. EAs, by contrast, often proposed alternate, sometimes contradictory, explanatory models for the depressive symptoms. One model emphasized biological explanations ranging from "hormonal imbalance" to "neurological problem." The second model resembled the "situational stress" or "life problem" model described by SAs. The implications of these findings, and directions for future research, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asia, Southeastern / ethnology
  • Asian / psychology
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Depression / ethnology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological*
  • New York City
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / ethnology
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • White People / psychology
  • Women's Health / ethnology