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» Understanding mental disorder requires understanding mental health. «

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Margraf

Positive mental health across the life span

Cross-cultural mental health research

Despite the fact that social factors and cultural background are widely recognized as potentially highly relevant influences on mental health, cross-cultural comparative studies remain rare. Psychological, biological, and even sociological theories of mental health typically strive for universal validity and claim to be transcultural. Yet, most of our theories and studies are formed and conducted intraculturally (within a single culture, typically North American or Western European). For them to be truly transcultural, they must first be examined cross-culturally.

A major problem of comparative cultural research is that it mostly uses data from different studies collected with heterogeneous methods at different times. Because of the large variance in, for example, diagnostic criteria and practices and the poor testing of transcultural measurement invariance, these comparisons are very inaccurate. Also, the relationship among the various positive constructs such as optimism, life satisfaction, resilience, and happiness, as well as the nature of positive mental health, is unclear. These are questions that we investigate within the framework of the BOOM project. Our investigations take place in representative and student samples in countries including China, Germany, France, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S.


BOOM Bochum Optimism and Mental Health (BOOM)

The research program “Bochum Optimism and Mental Health (BOOM)” started in 2011. It is supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

The main aim of BOOM is the identification of causal protective and risk factors of positive mental health as well as depression, anxiety and stress symptoms. It contains intercultural and transcultural cross- and longitudinal studies in which potentially causally significant combinations of epidemiological, experimental psychological and intervention approaches are investigated. The dual-factor model of mental health which describes mental health and mental illness as two interrelated but separate unipolar dimensions is the theoretical basis of BOOM.

Since 2011, cross-sectional and longitudinal data of student (Germany, Russia, China) and representative (Germany, Russia, USA) samples are continuously collected and analyzed (total N ≈ 40,000). Various methodological approaches are used to clarify the influence of different research methods and to provide insights into the transcultural measurement invariance of the investigated constructs and instruments.

First results show that life satisfaction, resilience, optimism, subjective happiness and social support have a salutogenic effect cross-culturally, and at the same time act as a buffer against negative effects of stress and psychopathological symptoms.