Biocultural research on associations between blood pressure and idioms of distress

August 14, 2016
In a recent article published in the American Journal of Human Biology, anthropology Ph.D. candidate Amelia Sancilio and co-authors Mark Eggerman and Professor Catherine Panter-Brick report how on how biocultural research remains a challenge in the field of global mental health. They sought to test associations between blood pressure and idioms of distress in a population survey.
They drew on a randomly selected sample of 991 adults (498 men, 493 women) in Afghanistan, for whom physiological and psychosocial data were systematically collected. Assessment of mental health (Self-Reported Questionnaire, Afghan Symptom Checklist) included conceptualizations of distress related to pressure (fishar), anxiety, and dysphoria, as well as dimensions of negative affect and aggression. They used principal component analysis to map survey responses to fishar, and multiple regressions to examine associations with systolic/diastolic blood pressure, controlling for age, body mass index, and wealth, and differentiating by gender, mental health, and medication.
Their results show that subjective reports of fishar map onto physiological blood pressure more robustly than other conceptualizations of mental distress related to anxiety, dysphoria, negative affect, or aggression. Their results point to the utility of mapping biological and cultural measures of stress and distress, advancing biopsychosocial understandings of wellbeing in global mental health surveys.