Background: Recent anthropological studies have documented the importance of understanding the relation of culture to the experience of mental illness. The use of interviews that elicit explanatory models has facilitated such research, but currently available interviews are lengthy and impractical for epidemiological studies. This paper is a preliminary report on the development of a brief instrument to elicit explanatory models for use in field work.
Method: The development of the SEMI, a short interview to elicit explanatory models is described. The interview explores the subject's cultural background, nature of presenting problem, help-seeking behaviour, interaction with physician/healer and beliefs related to mental illness.
Results: The SEMI was employed to study the explanatory models of subjects with common mental disorders among Whites, African-Caribbean and Asians living in London and was also used in Harare, Zimbabwe. Data from its use in four different ethnic groups is presented with the aim of demonstrating its capacity to show up differences in these varied settings.
Conclusions: The simplicity and brevity of the SEMI allow for its use in field studies in different cultures, data can be used to provide variables for use in quantitative analysis and provide qualitative descriptions.