Cross-culturally adapting the GHQ-12 for use with refugee populations: Opportunities, dilemmas, and challenges

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This article discusses the opportunities, dilemmas, and challenges involved in the cross-cultural adaptation (CCA) of psychological scales for use with refugee populations. It draws on insights derived from an attempt to adapt the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) to the particular culture and context of Eritrean refugees residing in Israel. Multiple techniques including expert translations, a focus-group discussion, a survey, and piloting, were employed to attain a cross-cultural and conceptually equivalent measure. During the CCA process, the research team encountered issues pertaining to conceptual non-equivalence, the structure of the measure's responses and scoring system, and acceptability. These issues required the team to move beyond semantic translation by adapting certain items. This study demonstrates the compromises which need to be made in the adaptation process and indicates the potential bias which each of these compromises introduces. Despite its limitations, CCA does appear to significantly improve detection of mental health symptoms in refugee populations. Overall, the results of the present study provide support for the notion that the sensitive and appropriate assessment of individuals from refugee backgrounds requires adopting a rigorous, systematic, and contextual approach to instrument adaptation, with an emphasis on the integration of idioms of distress as well as the adaptation of Likert-type scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-181
Number of pages14
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2024


  • Eritrea
  • cultural adaptation
  • mental health assessment
  • refugees
  • translation

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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