Beliefs about mental illness among Chinese in the West

C.-H. Liu, L. Meeuwesen, F. van Wesel, D. Ingleby

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to test the widely held assumption that underutilisation of mental health services by Chinese living in western countries is due to their different beliefs regarding mental illness. Design/methodology/approach – Qualitative data were analysed from in-depth interviews with 23 Chinese respondents, who gave a total of 30 accounts of a Chinese person they knew who had experienced mental health problems in the Netherlands. Analysis focused on the way these problems were described and explained, as well as the kinds of help regarded as appropriate. Findings – The beliefs expressed about mental illness did not seem to differ from those current in the west in ways that would form a major barrier to seeking help from mainstream services. Research limitations/implications – The study was exploratory and the limited sample size did not make it possible to analyse sources of variation in beliefs. Generalisation to other countries would need to take into account the specific characteristics of the Chinese population in those countries. Practical implications – Simply knowing that a person is of Chinese origin is likely to tell us little about their beliefs concerning mental health. Moreover, traditional Chinese beliefs are not necessarily incompatible with western ones. Service providers should pay more attention to issues such as communication barriers, entitlement to care, knowledge of how the health system works and discrimination. Originality/value – The paper challenges widely held notions about ethnic Chinese that are seldom empirically tested. It is the first study of its kind in the Netherlands. © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-121
JournalInternational Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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