Agency, activation and compatriots: the influence of social networks on health-seeking behaviours among Sri Lankan migrants and Anglo-Australians with depression
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© 2018 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness. The nexus between social networks and illness behaviours is important in uptake of health care, however scant research has explored this relationship in South Asian migrants living with mental illness. We explored the interplay between culture, social networks and health seeking in Sri Lankan migrants and Anglo-Australians living with depression. Forty-eight in-depth interviews were conducted and data were analysed through the theoretical prism of the network episode model. Results showed that social networks were important in negotiating care. Decisions to initiate care occurred along a continuum of choice and agency; some took charge of their care, others were coerced into care, however some Sri Lankan migrants were led through various informal channels of care. Selective activation of compatriots – those perceived to understand mental illness-became increasingly important to participants through their illness careers. Compatriots were considered of greater benefit as participants progressed through depression than otherwise meaningful social networks based on ethnicity, culture and kinship. We argue that the role of social networks is pivotal in uptake of formal care, and engaging with communities to improve responses of social networks to mental illnesses may provide a bottom-up avenue for improving uptake of mental health services in migrant communities.
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