Class, perceptions of ‘disordered’ behaviour, and suggestions for therapy: a tri-cultural comparison

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Abstract

This paper presents findings from a tri-cultural study in which we argue that class differences pertain not only to rates of mental illness but also to recognition of symptoms of mental illness and to recommendations concerning what should be done by those exhibiting ‘disordered behaviour’. It is hypothesized that regardless of respondent's cultural background, the extent to which a deviant behaviour will be defined as a mental health problem, and professional therapy will be suggested as a source of help for that problem, will be positively related to class. Findings from a sample selected from two small West Texas communities, and samples selected from Durange, Mexico, and Juiz de Fora, Brazil, indicate strong support for the first prediction only among the West Texas sample, whereas the second hypothesis concerning therapy suggestions is strongly supported among respondents in all three cultural settings. We conclude that these class differences in perceptions and suggestions concerning five examples of ‘disordered’ behaviours read to respondents relate to conditions of lower-class life in general. Particularly, structural support found for our hypothesis leads us to suggest a need for informal, nonbureaucratic mental health care systems created to serve lower-class populations residing in class-oriented societies, regardless of cultural differences which may exist among these societies.

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