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It is unknown how much variation in adult mental health problems is associated with differences between societal/cultural groups, over and above differences between individuals.
To test these relative contributions, a consortium of indigenous researchers collected Adult Self-Report (ASR) ratings from 16 906 18- to 59-year-olds in 28 societies that represented seven culture clusters identified in the Global Leadership and Organizational Behavioral Effectiveness study (e.g. Confucian, Anglo). The ASR is scored on 17 problem scales, plus a personal strengths scale. Hierarchical linear modeling estimated variance accounted for by individual differences (including measurement error), society, and culture cluster. Multi-level analyses of covariance tested age and gender effects.
Across the 17 problem scales, the variance accounted for by individual differences ranged from 80.3% for DSM-oriented anxiety problems to 95.2% for DSM-oriented avoidant personality (mean = 90.7%); by society: 3.2% for DSM-oriented somatic problems to 8.0% for DSM-oriented anxiety problems (mean = 6.3%); and by culture cluster: 0.0% for DSM-oriented avoidant personality to 11.6% for DSM-oriented anxiety problems (mean = 3.0%). For strengths, individual differences accounted for 80.8% of variance, societal differences 10.5%, and cultural differences 8.7%. Age and gender had very small effects.
Overall, adults' self-ratings of mental health problems and strengths were associated much more with individual differences than societal/cultural differences, although this varied across scales. These findings support cross-cultural use of standardized measures to assess mental health problems, but urge caution in assessment of personal strengths.
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