How useful is the concept of somatization in cross-cultural studies of maternal depression? A contribution from the Mothers in a New Country (MINC) study Academic Article uri icon


  • Somatization of depression symptoms has been assumed to characterize particular cultural groups, yet evidence for this has often been anecdotal. The Mothers in a New Country (MINC) study aimed to explore cultural assumptions about somatization in three groups of immigrant women who had recently given birth in Melbourne, Australia. Physical health (SF-36 physical health dimensions and a symptom list) and depression (EPDS, SF-36 mental health dimension and self assessment) data from personal interviews with Vietnamese (n = 104), Turkish (n = 107) and Filipino (n = 107) women, conducted in women's language of choice, six to nine months after childbirth were analyzed. Comparisons with data from a statewide postal survey of Victorian women are also made. Contrary to the study hypothesis that Turkish and Vietnamese women in particular would exhibit a high degree of somatization (leading to low depression scores on the standard measures and greater reporting of somatic symptoms), Turkish women were in fact most likely of the three groups to be assessed as depressed on the two psychological measures and by self-assessment, to report high levels of somatic symptoms, and Vietnamese and Filipino women had a low prevalence of depression on all measures and relatively lower levels of somatic symptom reporting. The MINC study findings thus call into question some common cultural assumptions about depression and demonstrate the importance of designing studies which can put hypothesized cultural differences to the test.

publication date

  • January 2003