The first prospective study investigating cultural identity and mental health status among adolescents living in a culturally diverse society has revealed that there is an association between the two, and that effects differ by gender and ethnic group. Researchers say the findings, published April 15, 2008 in The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, could inform policies affecting educational and social institutions caring for young people.
Led by Kamaldeep Bhui, Professor of Cultural Psychiatry and Epidemiology at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, the research looked at 11-14 year-old White British and Bangladeshi pupils taken from a representative sample of schools in east London*, and assessed cultural identity via their preference for friends and clothes from their own, or other cultural groups. The pupils were then classified into traditional, integrated, assimilated or marginalised groups. In a follow-up study two years later, a number of the same pupils were resurveyed and completed measures of mental health.
Results showed that clothing preferences in adolescence appeared to influence future mental health, with different effects apparent by gender. Bangladeshi girls for example were most likely to benefit from traditional clothing choices, and White British girls benefited from integrated clothing choices. In contrast to Bangladeshi girls, White British girls with traditional clothing preferences had a higher risk of ill mental health, and White British girls who preferred clothing from other cultural groups (assimilated) were at an even higher risk.
Bangladeshi boys who entirely preferred wearing western clothing had a lower risk of mental health problems, and White British boys with integrated clothing choices had the lowest risk of mental health problems at follow up, with the highest risk being those with marginalised clothing choices. These findings were sustained even after further adjustment for place of birth, religious groups and number of years resident in the UK.
The research did not reveal an association between friend-ship based measures of cultural identity and mental disorder, contradicting previous cross-sectional studies.
Professor Kam Bhui said: "This research shows that clothing choices as measures of cultural identity influence the risk of ill mental health later in life. The results suggest that policies and practices which encourage young people to move away from traditional forms of dress and identity to embrace integrated ones require further refinement, research and evaluation."
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