A Care-Full Diagnosis: Three Vietnamese Australian Women and Their Accounts of Becoming “Mentally Ill”

, , ,


It is often argued that Western medical responses to illness take illness out of the intimate social contexts within which illness becomes meaningful for people and that, as a result, Western medicine can often constitute an ineffective or, at worst, a disempowering response to illness. While not wishing to challenge such arguments, we seek in this article to present material that might serve as a useful caveat to them. Drawn from interviews conducted as part of an Australian study exploring cross-cultural understandings and experiences of mental illness, we present the accounts of three Vietnamese Australian women. In these accounts, the diagnoses of mental illness that these women had received from their Australian doctors were not presented as being meaningless or disempowering. Rather, as the women presented it, being seen and treated as mentally ill had precipitated and continued to precipitate a sense of belonging and self-worth.