Stigma, racism or choice. Why do depressed ethnic elders avoid psychiatrists?

Steven Marwaha*, Gill Livingston

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Knowledge of mental health service users views is important in service planning, to ensure access for everyone and in particular for those in minority groups. Depression is common in older people and it has been suggested that ethnic elders may be more vulnerable to mental illness. This study therefore explored and compared the views of White British (WB) and Black African-Caribbean (BC) older people on depression as an illness, avenues of help and the place of mental health services. Methods: A qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews using vignettes describing an older man with depression and a woman with psychosis. The purposive sample consisted of 40 WB and BC older people half of who had been depressed. Results: 21 WB (10 depressed and 11 not depressed) and 19 BC (10 depressed and 9 not depressed) were interviewed. Most people irrespective of ethnicity or depression recognised that there was something wrong with the man with depression. Most did not consider it an illness. Ethnicity but not depression effected the interpretation of the aetiology of the symptoms. A minority thought that consulting the GP would help but some BC specified that it would be inappropriate. BC who had not been depressed thought that spiritual help was appropriate. Both ethnic groups suggested that mental health services were for care, incarceration or dealing with violence. None of those who had been depressed thought that the mental health services were for dealing with violence. Limitations: We interviewed established BC immigrants and our results might not apply to new BC immigrants or other immigrant groups. Descriptions within the vignettes of depression and psychosis were defined by us. Conclusions: Most older people do not view depression as a mental illness. Older people, particularly BC therefore often do not see psychiatric services as appropriate and believe they are primarily for psychosis and violence. These views are amenable to change. Doctors should be explicit that services are for people with depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-265
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2002


  • Depression
  • Ethnic elders
  • Mental illness
  • Services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Stigma, racism or choice. Why do depressed ethnic elders avoid psychiatrists?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this