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Stress and diabetes in socioeconomic context: A qualitative study of urban Indians


  • Mendenhall, Emily
  • Shivashankar, Roopa
  • Tandon, Nikhil
  • Ali, Mohammed K.
  • Venkat Narayan, K.M.
  • Prabhakaran, Dorairaj


Type 2 diabetes has escalated in urban India in the past two decades. Historically a disease of the affluent, recent epidemiological evidence indicates rising diabetes incidence and prevalence in urban India's middle class and working poor. Although there is substantial qualitative data about people with diabetes from high-income countries, scant resources provide insight into diabetes experiences among those in India, and lower-income groups specifically. In this article, we use individual-level analysis of illness narratives to understand how people experience and understand diabetes across income groups in Delhi, India. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews and administered the Hopkins Symptoms Check-List (HSCL-25) to evaluate depression among 59 people with diabetes in northeast Delhi between December 2011 and February 2012. We analyzed their responses to: 1) what caused your diabetes?; 2) what do you find most stressful in your daily life?; and 3) where do you seek diabetes care? We found few people held diabetes beliefs that were congruent with socio-spiritual or biomedical explanatory models, and higher income participants commonly cited “tension” as a contributor to diabetes. Stress associated with children's futures, financial security, and family dynamics were most commonly reported, but how these subjective stresses were realized in people's lives varied across income groups. Depression was most common among the poorest income group (55%) but was also reported among middle- (38%) and high-income (29%) participants. One-quarter of respondents reported diabetes distress, but only those from the low-income community reported co-occurring depression and these respondents often revealed poor access to diabetes care. These data suggest that lower-income populations not only have higher rates of depression but also may be more likely to delay health care and therefore develop diabetes complications. This research has many implications for public health care in India as diabetes prevalence shifts to affect lower income groups who concurrently experience higher rates of depression and poorer access to medical care.

Suggested Citation

  • Mendenhall, Emily & Shivashankar, Roopa & Tandon, Nikhil & Ali, Mohammed K. & Venkat Narayan, K.M. & Prabhakaran, Dorairaj, 2012. "Stress and diabetes in socioeconomic context: A qualitative study of urban Indians," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(12), pages 2522-2529.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:12:p:2522-2529
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.09.040

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Finkler, Kaja, 2004. "Biomedicine globalized and localized: western medical practices in an outpatient clinic of a Mexican hospital," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 59(10), pages 2037-2051, November.
    2. Loewe, Ronald & Schwartzman, John & Freeman, Joshua & Quinn, Laurie & Zuckerman, Steve, 1998. "Doctor talk and diabetes: towards an analysis of the clinical construction of chronic illness," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 47(9), pages 1267-1276, November.
    3. Hunt, Linda M. & Valenzuela, Miguel A. & Pugh, Jacqueline A., 1998. "Porque me tocó a mi ? Mexican American diabetes patients' causal stories and their relationship to treatment behaviors," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 46(8), pages 959-969, April.
    4. Chokkanathan, Srinivasan, 2009. "Resources, stressors and psychological distress among older adults in Chennai, India," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 243-250, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pathak, Gauri & Nichter, Mark, 2015. "Polycystic ovary syndrome in globalizing India: An ecosocial perspective on an emerging lifestyle disease," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 146(C), pages 21-28.


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