Sociology ETDs

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Parents play a significant role in many areas of their childrens mental health, including understanding the concept, detection, utilization, and treatment options. Despite the importance of parents' role, there is relatively little research in the United States on Latino parents' conceptualization of the term mental health. This study focuses on understanding conceptualization patterns of children's mental health among low-income Mexican immigrant mothers. I utilize the social construction framework to investigate the social nature of the construct mental health. I also engage with the medicalization literature to shed light on the biomedical model's perspective on mental health. Nine focus groups were conducted with 75 low-income Mexican immigrant mothers in New Mexico. Through inductive qualitative analysis of how participants define the term mental health of their children, five coexisting conceptualizations of mental health emerged: cognitive, emotional, behavioral, positive outlook, and social environment. I found that Mexican immigrant mothers have a complex, multifaceted conceptualization of children's mental health. The mothers in this study defined mental health first in the arena of larger social dynamics and contexts in which children are embedded and then included definitions that aligned with the traditional Western biomedical framework. Mexican immigrant mothers' concept of mental health is not a fixed, purely biological or psychological concept, but instead it is an evolving, social, and multidimensional category that includes a variety of overlapping conceptualizations. The analysis suggests a need for additional research to continue to investigate the concept of mental health within this and other communities. Furthermore, this community's conceptualization of mental health was tied to the participants' identity and everyday experiences. Contextualizing the definition of mental health should add to the understanding about mental health disparities among Latino children and suggest strategies to increase better communication between Latino parents and mental health providers. This study emphasizes the social determinant framework highlighting the importance of context in regards to the construction of children's mental health.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Ginossar, Tamar

Second Committee Member

Waitzkin, Howard

Project Sponsors

The National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institute of Health through Grant No. 8UL1TR000041. Funding was also provided by La Tierra Sagrada, The Sacred Earth,' a society established in 1996 at the University of New Mexico's School of Medicine (PI: Dr. Tamar Ginossar).


Mental Health, Children, conceptualization, Social Determinants, Latino/a, Biomedical Model



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