Conceptualising mental illness among university students of African, Caribbean and similar ethnic heritage in the United Kingdom

Dare, O., Jidong, D.E. ORCID: 0000-0001-5034-0335 and Premkumar, P., 2022. Conceptualising mental illness among university students of African, Caribbean and similar ethnic heritage in the United Kingdom. Ethnicity and Health. ISSN 1355-7858

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Objective: Students of African, Caribbean and similar ethnicity (ACE) encounter unique mental health challenges within the Western higher education system, such as feeling constrained in social spaces and perceiving greater stigma about mental health. Students of ACE are also resilient to mental health problems, such as depression, when enduring social inequality. This study aimed to conceptualise mental illness and help-seeking behaviours among university students in the United Kingdom (UK) in the context of their identity as ACE.

Design: Six university students of ACE in the UK were interviewed about the meaning of mental illness, the influence of ACE culture on mental health and help-seeking by ACE students. Thematic analysis was applied from a socio-constructionist theoretical lens to interpret the interview transcripts.

Results: Five main themes emerged, namely ‘Perceived meanings and attitudes toward mental health problems’, ‘Beliefs about the non-existence of mental health problem and its spiritual attributions’, ‘Family dynamics and the ‘silencing’ of mental health problems’, ‘Help-seeking for mental health among people of ACE’ and ‘Stigma and discriminatory responses to mental health issues’. Participants expressed that mental health is an imported concept that people from ACE communities tend to shy away from. A reluctance to discuss mental health problems arose over fear of rejection from families and fear of not being understood by a mental health professional from a different cultural background.

Conclusion: University students of ACE and their families struggle to adopt the Western conceptualisation of mental health. Consequently, there is poor awareness of mental health issues and stigma of mental illness among university students of ACE which pose a barrier to help-seeking for mental health. The limited sample size constrains the ability to draw sound conclusions. Nonetheless, a culturally sensitive conceptualisation of mental health is needed to address poor help-seeking for mental health among people of ACE.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Ethnicity and Health
Creators: Dare, O., Jidong, D.E. and Premkumar, P.
Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Date: 31 July 2022
ISSN: 1355-7858
Rights: © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Laura Ward
Date Added: 29 Jun 2022 09:09
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2023 09:20

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