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Health and Mental Health among Mexican-American Migrant Workers

Roberta D. Baer

KEY WORDS: mental health conditions, question comprehension, health reporting, National Health Interview Survey, questionnaire pretest, cross-cultural reporting differences.


This report is one of five exploratory ethnomedical studies sponsored by the Census Bureau and funded by National Center for Health Statistics in anticipation of adding mental health measurements to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). To examine possible cross-cultural differences in reporting of mental health conditions, the Census Bureau solicited proposals from ethnographers and medical anthropologists to explore peoples' language and conceptual organization of the mental health domain, specifically depression, anxiety, phobia, and panic. Each study was conducted in a different group, following a similar research protocol. In-depth ethnographic interviews explored health and mental health concepts in an open-ended fashion, then a second set of focused interviews elicited reactions to a set of proposed survey measures of symptoms of anxiety, depression, panic, and phobia. The intent was identify culture-bound disorders which may affect survey reports of mental health conditions, and to comment on the cultural appropriateness and validity of the questions and terms proposed to elicit reports of mental health symptoms. The studies attempted a different approach to questionnaire pretesting by using ethnographic research to inform, refine, and test survey question wordings so they have greater cross-cultural validity.

Baer conducted her research among Mexican and Mexican-American migrant workers in Florida. Her research leads her to conclude that measurement of the incidence of mental illness in this population may be affected by language and conceptual differences, as well as cultural characteristics of the population. The proposed questions may lead to misreporting due to vague quantifiers, varying interpretations of response categories, and unclear questions.

CITATION: Roberta D. Baer. 1992. Health and Mental Health Among Mexican-American Migrant Workers. ETHNOGRAPHIC EXPLORATORY RESEARCH REPORT SERIES (2007-6)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Research Division

Created: October 24, 2007
Last revised: October 24, 2007

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010