Biocultural research in global mental health: mapping idioms of distress onto blood pressure in a population survey
Abstract Objectives Biocultural research remains a challenge in the field of global mental health. We sought to test associations between blood pressure and idioms of distress in a population survey. Methods We drew on a randomly selected sample of 991 adults (498 men, 493 women) in Afghanistan, for whom physiological and psychosocial data were systematically collected. Assessment of mental health (Self‐Reported Questionnaire, Afghan Symptom Checklist) included conceptualizations of distress related to pressure ( fishar ), anxiety, and dysphoria, as well as dimensions of negative affect and aggression. We used principal component analysis to map survey responses to fishar , and multiple regressions to examine associations with systolic/diastolic blood pressure, controlling for age, body mass index, and wealth, and differentiating by gender, mental health, and medication. Results The Afghan sample averaged 129/80 mmHg, with 27.14% of hypertensive individuals. SBP showed inverse associations with reports of low fishar ( β = &min −4.58, P fishar ( β = 6.90 6.90, P fishar ( β = &min −1.55, P fishar ( β = 3.77 3.77, P fishar responses accounted for substantial proportions of SBP data variation ( R 2 = 20% and R 2 = 24%), especially in adults on blood pressure medication ( R 2 = 58% and R 2 = 49%). Conclusions Subjective reports of fishar map onto physiological blood pressure more robustly than other conceptualizations of mental distress related to anxiety, dysphoria, negative affect, or aggression. Our results point to the utility of mapping biological and cultural measures of stress and distress, advancing biopsychosocial understandings of wellbeing in global mental health surveys.
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