• attitudes to health/illness;
  • beliefs about health/illness;
  • care-seeking behaviour;
  • diabetes mellitus;
  • migrants;
  • self-care

Beliefs about health and illness essential for self-care practice: a comparison of migrant Yugoslavian and Swedish diabetic females

In a multicultural society the frequency of contact with migrant diabetic individuals will increase, as well as the need for knowledge about their beliefs about health and illness, which have rarely been studied. The aim of the present study was to explore beliefs about health and illness among migrant Yugoslavian and Swedish diabetic subjects that might affect their self-reported self-care practices and care-seeking behaviours. The study design was explorative, and a purposive sampling procedure was used. Fifteen females born in Sweden and 13 in former Yugoslavia, aged 33–73 years, with previously known diabetes mellitus were recruited from primary health care centres in southern Sweden. Median time of residence in Sweden was 5 years (range 2–30 years). Eight of the Yugoslavians had their diabetes diagnosed in Sweden. Focus-group interviews including scenarios of common problems related to diabetes mellitus were held. Yugoslavian females in general gave less tangible examples concerning beliefs about health and illness. Yugoslavians were orientated towards feelings related to their migratory experiences, enjoyed life by making deviations from dietary advice and retaining former traditions, and were less inclined towards self-monitoring and preventive foot care. They also expressed a passive role, depending on health care personnel, and discussed the influence of supernatural forces. Swedes expressed themselves in terms of medicine and a healthy lifestyle, took active part in their self-care and let self-monitoring guide their actions. Self-care was mainly practised to restore health when ill in both groups, and when help was needed it was sought in the professional sector (nurse or physician). Yugoslavians expressed higher confidence in physicians and used more natural cure medicine, side by side with biomedicine, while Swedes more frequently used alternative medicine. Demonstrated dissimilarities illustrate that beliefs about health and illness differ between migrant Yugoslavian and Swedish diabetic individuals, and are essential for self-care practice and care-seeking behaviour and must be considered when planning diabetes care.