Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 726–745 | Cite as

Utilization of Standardized Mental Health Assessments in Anthropological Research: Possibilities and Pitfalls

  • Emily MendenhallEmail author
  • Kristin Yarris
  • Brandon A. Kohrt
Original Paper


In the past decade anthropologists working the boundary of culture, medicine, and psychiatry have drawn from ethnographic and epidemiological methods to interdigitate data and provide more depth in understanding critical health problems. But rarely do these studies incorporate psychiatric inventories with ethnographic analysis. This article shows how triangulation of research methods strengthens scholars’ ability (1) to draw conclusions from smaller data sets and facilitate comparisons of what suffering means across contexts; (2) to unpack the complexities of ethnographic and narrative data by way of interdigitating narratives with standardized evaluations of psychological distress; and (3) to enhance the translatability of narrative data to interventionists and to make anthropological research more accessible to policymakers. The crux of this argument is based on two discrete case studies, one community sample of Nicaraguan grandmothers in urban Nicaragua, and another clinic-based study of Mexican immigrant women in urban United States, which represent different populations, methodologies, and instruments. Yet, both authors critically examine narrative data and then use the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale to further unpack meaning of psychological suffering by analyzing symptomatology. Such integrative methodologies illustrate how incorporating results from standardized mental health assessments can corroborate meaning-making in anthropology while advancing anthropological contributions to mental health treatment and policy.


Depression Narrative Triangulation Psychological anthropology Women’s health 



Research discussed in this paper has received funding from the National Science Foundation, Fulbright-IIE, and Northwestern University.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily Mendenhall
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristin Yarris
    • 2
  • Brandon A. Kohrt
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Science, Technology, & International Affairs, Walsh School of Foreign ServiceGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of International StudiesUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  3. 3.Duke Global Health InstituteDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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