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The Gerontologist 46:23-32 (2006)
© 2006 The Gerontological Society of America

Concepts and Causation of Depression: A Cross-Cultural Study of the Beliefs of Older Adults

Vanessa Lawrence, BSc1, Joanna Murray, BA1, Sube Banerjee, MD1, Sara Turner, PhD2, Kuljeet Sangha, MA1, Richard Byng, PhD3, Dinesh Bhugra, PhD1, Peter Huxley, PhD1, Andre Tylee, MD1 and Alastair Macdonald, MD1

Correspondence: Address correspondence to Vanessa Lawrence, PO26, Section of Mental Health and Ageing, Health Services Research Department, The David Goldberg Centre, The Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF. E-mail: v.lawrence{at}

Purpose: This U.K. study explored how older adults with depression (treated and untreated) and the general older population conceptualize depression. A multicultural approach was used that incorporated the perspectives of Black Caribbean, South Asian, and White British older adults. The study sought to explore and compare beliefs about the nature and causes of depression, and to suggest ways in which these beliefs act to facilitate or deter older people from accessing treatment. Design and Methods: One hundred and ten in-depth separate interviews were conducted for 45 White British, 33 South Asian, and 32 Black Caribbean individuals. The interviews explored what the word depression meant to participants, and their beliefs regarding depression's causes. Results: Depression was often viewed as an illness arising from adverse personal and social circumstances that accrue in old age. White British and Black Caribbean participants defined depression in terms of low mood and hopelessness; South Asian and Black Caribbean participants frequently defined depression in terms of worry. Those receiving antidepressants were more likely to acknowledge psychological symptoms of depression. Differences in attribution were found between the ethnic groups. Implications: A social model of depression is closer to the beliefs of older people than the traditional medical model. Culturally appropriate inquiries about recent life events could be used to facilitate discussion about depression. Our data suggest that many older adults would respond to probing by primary care physicians about their mood. Health and social care professionals need to be sensitive to the language of depression used by different ethnic groups.

Key Words: Depression • Qualitative methodology • Ethnicity • Cultural differences • Mental health

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All GSA journals Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Copyright © 2006 by The Gerontological Society of America.