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Sociol Health Illn. 2010 May;32(4):511-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2009.01228.x. Epub 2010 Apr 15.

Negotiations of distress between East Timorese and Vietnamese refugees and their family doctors in Melbourne.

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1
Department of Sociology, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. renata.kokanovic@arts.monash.edu.au

Abstract

Recent critiques of depression have contested its coherence as a concept and highlighted its performance in medicalising distress. Studies of depression in a cross-cultural context have focused on language and belief systems as technical barriers to practice that need to be overcome in enacting depression work. This paper seeks to locate culture within the broader socio-structural context of depression care in general practice. The paper draws on interviews with five general practitioners (GPs), and 24 patients from Vietnamese and East Timorese backgrounds who predominantly have left their home as refugees. Each had been diagnosed with depression or prescribed antidepressants. These patients gave accounts of distress deeply embedded within, and inseparable from, lives fraught with frightening pre-migration experiences, traumatic escape and profound dislocation and alienation in their new 'home'. Fragmented lives were contrasted with the nourishing social fabric of homes left behind. GP participants were involved in a process of engaging with a profoundly communal and structural account of emotional distress while defending and drawing on an individualised notion of depression in performing their work and accounting for the pain presented to them.

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