Social anthropology and medical anthropology have presented a challenge to the belief that there are universal categories of mental illness. A relativist position would suggest that there are as many categories of mental health (or physical health) as there are languages and culture in which they are expressed. Intermediate arguments suggest that there may be common elements in ideas of mental illness but that cultural expression of syndromes may differ significantly, or that symptoms may cluster in different ways in different cultures. These arguments have been raised, as well as in cross national comparisons, in the context of minority groups (ethnic, cultural, language groups) in Britain. The research, reported here, on South Asian women in Bristol, shows that they have a clear conception of mental health and illness, a clear understanding of relationships between physical and mental health, and make important distinctions between types of mental ill-health. They describe mental distress in a culturally specific set of language terms and their accounts differ from English speakers in important ways. At the same time they describe a syndrome of mental distress which corresponds in a number of features to the category ‘depression’.