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Depression here and there

Research finds cultural differences in depression

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A University of Calgary researcher has found differences with how people experience depression in Canada and the Middle East. 


U of C clinical psychology doctoral student Shadi Beshai has collaborated with an Egyptian psychologist and has found that people in Canada experience depression emotionally, while people in Egypt experience depression physically. These findings can be used to tailor treatments and broaden understanding of depression.


Beshai is leading the research under the supervision of U of C psychology professor Keith Dobson. Beshai has been studying cognitive therapy for depression, which looks at the way people think and how it influences their mood. Egyptian psychologist Ashraf Adel has been collecting data for the research.


“A lot of studies show that there is a strong link between how people think and how they interpret the world and what kind of mood they have, whether it be sad or happy,” said Beshai. “We want to be able to tailor treatments to fit the issues people in these countries are having.”


Beshai said he was interested in whether the political situation in Egypt affected the ways people felt depression.


“Given the recent political turmoil in Egypt, I was very interested to see how individuals in Egypt experience depression,” said Beshai. “It is understood that depression is a universal phenomenon, however, there are different ways people express it in different parts of the world.” 


Beshai said understanding these differences could improve depression treatments developed in Western countries. These treatments can then be used to help people in Middle Eastern countries, as well as immigrants to Canada from the Middle East. 


“I was interested to see if people who have depression in these Middle Eastern countries experience it similarly to people in Canada and, if they do, whether the treatments we develop in the West could be applicable to people suffering from depression in those countries,” he said.


Other studies have found that political situations can affect the way people feel and that political instability can worsen depression. 


Beshai said that when Canadians are depressed, they show it with crying spells, negative thoughts and sadness. Egyptians, on the other hand, may feel heaviness on their chests and other physical discomforts.


“Instead of spending a lot of time modifying psychological problems, such as having crying spells and spending a lot of time focusing on these issues, what we can do instead is focus on these other symptoms and look into 
behavioural differences as well,” said Beshai. “If people are taking the treatment here that talks about depression as being experienced in emotional terms, and we bring it to a culture that doesn’t see depression in the same way, [tailoring the treatment] will make it less stigmatizing for the individual over there and they will be more willing to share and more willing to work with the therapist.”


Canadians are currently being recruited to collect data for the research. 


“We want to hear as many voices as possible to get accurate data to help more people,” said Beshai.


Beshai will also be collaborating with researchers in Iran.

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