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Cultural variations in perceptions of mental distress are important issues for healthcare. They can affect communication between patients and professionals and may be a root cause for misdiagnosis, patient disengagement, and disparities in access, outcomes and overall experiences of treatment by patients. Taking into account patients' explanatory models (EMs) of mental distress is fundamental to patient-centred care, and improved outcomes. This paper reports on the outcomes from the Cultural Consultation Service, commissioned in an inner-city London borough. We used a narrative-based ethnographic method of assessment, in which community mental health patients referred for a cultural consultation were interviewed using Barts Explanatory Model Inventory and Checklist (BEMI) to assess the EMs of their mental distress. Patients mainly attributed the causes and consequences of their mental distress to emotional and psychological factors, which were inextricably linked to existing social concerns and interpersonal issues. Desired solutions mainly focused on treatment, social, and systemic interventions. We found that using BEMI could contribute to a comprehensive assessment in routine care and can be used by professionals within a short timeframe and with minimal training. Ethnographic assessment method captures patients' EMs and illness experiences, opening the way for patient-centred interventions and potentially better outcomes and experiences.

Original publication




Journal article


International Review of Psychiatry

Publication Date





23 - 38