Drs. Steven Folmar, Lisa Kiang, and Guy Palmes of Wake Forest University will investigate how the impact of social status on the mental health of adolescents in Nepal is affected by concepts of identity. Variation in the relationship between social status and mental health suggests that other factors, such as how individuals think about identity, alter this association. This project will test the effects of two interrelated factors, education and 'cultural models of society' (how people view their membership in a status group), with one model held by individuals who believe that group identity results from an essential substance inherent in the members and the other model held by individuals who believe that group identity is due to societal factors that can be altered.
The project will employ a variety of social science methods, including extensive and detailed observations, and several standardized surveys and questionnaires on economic status, mental health and cultural models of society. A total of 300 adolescents will be drawn from three groups: high status (high caste), intermediate status (ethnic group), and low status/caste (Dalit) with varying levels of education. The project will be set in Lamjung, Nepal, which is characterized by sharp differences in social status and by rural-urban, educational, religious, political, and ethnic and caste diversity.
By investigating factors that alter how social status affects mental health, it becomes possible to shed light on the complex psychological processes of resiliency and internalization and how they relate to mental well-being. The implications of this study apply to understanding the mental health costs of marginalization and the internal methods of coping, not just among low-caste groups in Nepal but among other marginalized groups around the world. Results will inform policy on social discrimination and mental health in societies with marked social distinctions. The project will also contribute to the science of broadening participation of underrepresented groups in science and is an excellent example of interdisciplinary scholarship. The project stands to influence training in psychiatry, the planning and delivery of public health, and educational interventions in Nepal and elsewhere. It will create opportunities for research partnerships between the U.S. and Nepal and will train students and researchers from both countries.