Multicultural Understanding of Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

Most research and theory regarding psychopathology have been limited to a handful of societies. To advance understanding of psychopathology beyond these few societies, it is necessary to systematically assess the relevant phenomena across many societies. Such assessment requires that the same standardized procedures be applied to representative samples of populations from multiple societies. When the same standardized procedures are applied to representative samples from many societies, the findings can be viewed in terms of multicultural variations along continua comprising variables such as scale scores and prevalence rates.

In Multicultural Understanding of Child and Adolescent Psychopathology: Implications for Mental Health Assessment, Achenbach and Rescorla (2007) applied multicultural perspectives to findings from empirically based and diagnostically based assessment of children and adolescents in many societies. When standard sets of problem items were rated by parents, teachers, and youths in many societies, confirmatory factor analyses supported a common set of syndromes. Problem scale scores from many societies clustered around the “omnicultural mean” of scores obtained by averaging all societies, although scores from a few societies were substantially higher or lower than the scores for the large middle group.

Comparisons of prevalence findings for DSM diagnoses in various societies showed much greater differences than were found for empirically based measures. However, major methodological differences in diagnostic procedures, sources of data, methods for combining multisource data, sampling, and analyses make it hard to draw conclusions about differences in rates of disorders defined in terms of diagnostic criteria. Assessment methods that are similarly applicable in many societies and contexts are needed to help the millions of immigrant and minority children who are immersed in mental health, educational, and welfare systems around the world. Such assessment methods are also needed to identify correlates of particular kinds of problems. Studies reviewed by Achenbach and Rescorla have identified numerous correlates of empirically based scales in many societies, including referral for mental health services, diagnoses, gender, age, genetic factors, and socioeconomic status. The findings to date demonstrate how multicultural research can contribute to understanding, assessing, preventing, and treating psychopathology.

Reference: Achenbach, T.M., & Rescorla, L.A. (2007). Multicultural Understanding of Child and Adolescent Psychopathology: Implications for Mental Health Assessment. New York: Guilford Press.