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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Frame and Context for Understanding Mental Health Problems across Cultures: Language and the Social Self (Chinese Americans and Euro-Americans)


The interface between institutions and communities, between service providers and their recipients, is informed and implicitly organized around certain cultural issues. In the present paper, it is the backdrop for once again raising and questioning certain fundamental assumptions that underlie the way in which we think and conceive of mental health problems. The goal is not to substitute an alternative “definition” of the phenomenon but to step back and view such problems in a comparative framework which brings us “up the ladder of abstraction.” While language is the most explicit conduit through which the self gains expression, it is still far from a precise, analytical tool. One key to unlocking certain doors to the mental health question is the variable nature of the self as a social entity and perceptions of problems as they are thereby framed.

Note: This working paper was originally published in 1984 by the Institute for the Study of Social Change, now the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues.

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