Background: This paper seeks to explain an excess of psychological distress previously found among groups of British South Asians (with ancestry from the Indian subcontinent) living in Glasgow, compared with the general population. The excess was found on a psychosomatic measure and a measure of self-assessed distress but not on a clinically validated measure (the General Health Questionnaire or GHQ). The paper investigates whether South Asians are subject to stressful situations to which the GHQ is less sensitive than the other two measures.
Methods: Random samples of 159 South Asians aged 30-40, mean age 35, and 319 from the general population, all aged 35, were interviewed in Glasgow, using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), a psychosomatic symptom scale (PSS) and a self-assessment of distress. Subcultural groupings were differentiated by South Asian origin, English fluency, religion, and gender. Stressful situations assessed were experience of assault, stress/dissatisfaction with work, overcrowding, low standard of living, absence of family and absence of confidants.
Results: The GHQ-12 was less sensitive to certain stressful situations than the other two measures. The PSS and/or self-assessed distress were more sensitive to low standard of living, self-rated stress in work around the house and possibly experience of assault. In a combined analysis, the relation between distress on the PSS or self-assessed measure and subcultural groupings became nonsignificant, while the relation between distress and key stressful situations remained significant.
Conclusions: The greater distress of women, Muslims and limited English speakers is largely explained by the stressful situations they experience. The GHQ-12 under-estimates distress related to situations experienced particularly by ethnic minorities and by women.