U.S. Cambodian Refugees' Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Mental Health Problems

Published in: Psychiatric Services, v. 58, no. 9, Sep. 2007, p. 1212-1218

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2007

by Sarah Megan Berthold, Eunice C. Wong, Terry Schell, Grant N. Marshall, Marc N. Elliott, David Takeuchi, Katrin Hambarsoomian

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OBJECTIVE: This study examined U.S. Cambodian refugees' use of complementary and alternative medicine and Western sources of care for psychiatric problems. Analyses assessed the extent to which complementary and alternative medicine was used in the absence of Western mental health treatment and whether use of complementary and alternative medicine was associated with decreased use of Western services. METHODS: Face-to-face interviews were conducted with a representative sample drawn from the largest Cambodian refugee community in the United States. The sample included 339 persons who met criteria in the past 12 months for posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression, or alcohol use disorder. Respondents described contact with complementary and alternative medicine and Western service providers for psychological problems in the preceding 12 months. Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses were used. RESULTS: Seventy-two percent of the sample sought Western mental health services, and 34% relied on complementary and alternative medicine in the past year. Seeking complementary and alternative medicine was strongly and positively associated with seeking Western services, contrary to the hypothesis that use of complementary and alternative medicine inhibits seeking Western mental health treatment. CONCLUSIONS: Only a small percentage of Cambodian refugees used complementary and alternative medicine exclusively (5%), and utilization of complementary and alternative medicine was positively associated with seeking Western sources of care for mental health problems. Complementary and alternative medicine use does not appear to be a significant barrier to mental health treatment in this population, contrary to the Surgeon General's conclusion that Asian Americans' use of alternative resources may inhibit their utilization of Western mental health care.

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