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Ann Fam Med. 2010 May-Jun;8(3):231-6. doi: 10.1370/afm.1091.

Managing depression among ethnic communities: a qualitative study.

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Primary Care Research Unit, Department of General Practice, The University of Melbourne, 200 Berkeley Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053.



Clinical care for depression in primary care negotiates a path between contrasting views of depression as a universal natural phenomenon and as a socially constructed category. This study explores the complexities of this work through a study of how family physicians experience working with different ethnic minority communities in recognizing, understanding, and caring for patients with depression.


We undertook an analysis of in-depth interviews with 8 family physicians who had extensive experience in depression care in 3 refugee patient groups in metropolitan Victoria and Tasmania, Australia.


Although different cultural beliefs about depression were acknowledged, the physicians saw these beliefs as deeply rooted in the recent historical and social context of patients from these communities. Traumatic refugee experiences, dislocation, and isolation affected the whole of communities, as well as individuals. Physicians nevertheless often offered medication simply because of the impossibility of addressing structural issues. Interpreters were critical to the work of depression care, but their involvement highlighted that much of this clinical work lies beyond words.


The family physicians perceived working across cultural differences, working with biomedical and social models of depression, and working at both community and individual levels, not as a barrier to providing high-quality depression care, but rather as a central element of that care. Negotiating the phenomenon rather than diagnosing depression may be an important way that family physicians continue to work with multiple, contested views of emotional distress. Future observational research could more clearly characterize and measure the process of negotiation and explore its effect on outcomes.

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