Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 08:54 UK

Ethnic clothes mental health link

Bangladeshi girls
Some 1,000 teenagers were questioned

Teenage girls from some minority communities who stick to their family customs have better mental health, researchers say.

Queen Mary University of London found Bangladeshi girls who chose traditional rather than Western dress had fewer behavioural and emotional problems.

The team said close-knit families and communities could help protect them.

Pressure to integrate fully could be stressful, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reported.

Traditional clothing represents a tighter family unit, and this may offer some protection against some of the pressures that young people face
Professor Kam Bhui, report co-author

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems, and the researchers said that identity, often bound up in friendship choices or clothing, played a role.

They questioned a total of 1,000 white British and Bangladeshi 11 to 14-year-olds about their culture, social life and health, including questions designed to reveal any emotional or mental problems.

Bangladeshi pupils who wore traditional clothing were significantly less likely to have mental health problems than those whose style of dress was a mix of traditional and white British styles.

When this was broken down by gender, it appeared that only girls were affected.

No similar effect was found in white British adolescents who chose a mixture of clothes from their own and other cultures.

More support

Professor Kam Bhui, one of the study authors, said that the result was "surprising" - he had expected that girls who were less fully integrated to show signs of greater strain.

"Traditional clothing represents a tighter family unit, and this may offer some protection against some of the pressures that young people face.

"What it suggests is that we need to assist people who are moving from traditional cultures and becoming integrated into Western societies, as they may be more vulnerable to mental health problems."

Professor James Nazroo, a medical sociologist at the University of Manchester, said that the findings meant that "notions of Britishness" should be dealt with in a sophisticated way.

"There are many ways in which people can be British - these girls who have good mental health, and still have a strong traditional culture, are by implication settled and comfortable with their identities."


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