A study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology looked at differences in help-seeking behavior and etiological beliefs for mental illness and found that when looking that Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, Chinese Americans and European Americans, generally, the more Westernized a person was, the more likely they were to seek help for mental illness.  They hypothesized that this was due to a difference in the etiological beliefs about mental illness; namely, that collectivist cultures believe that mental illness results from personal factors, like history or life quality and individualistic cultures believe that mental illness results from environmental or hereditary factors.  One interesting outcome of this study was that although Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese were less likely to seek help for mental illness than Chinese Americans or European Americans, Mainland Chinese were more likely that Hong Kong Chinese to seek help.  (This is surprising because Hong Kong is considered more Westernized due to colonial history.)  An idea that may explain this difference is that in Chinese Universities, school clinics are run by doctors and psychiatrists in tandem; visiting a counselor or therapist is not all that different than visiting a medical doctor.

Some of the questions I have about this study include:

  • Does the etiological belief that mental illness results from personal factors lend itself toward more rapid solution focused therapy? (In my own work, I have found that when a client is willing to take ownership for their part in interpersonal conflict, they are able to resolve conflict much quicker.  Does it work similarly for larger, more global issues?)
  • Would physically integrating mental health and medical care increase utilization for mental health services in general?
  • How does one go about determining the etiological beliefs for mental illness in languages that don’t have words comparable to “mental illness”?

Chen, S.X. and Mak, W. W. S. (2008)  Seeking Professional Help: Etiology Beliefs About Mental Health Across Cultures.  Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(4), 442-449