Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Depression in China: Finding a translation

In Brief

Depression in China: Finding a translation

Chinese and American researchers writing in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry have reported an unusual study of depression in China and drawn some lessons for the cross-cultural understanding of psychiatric disorders.

Interviews were conducted with 40 patients referred by local psychiatrists at the Institute of Mental Health in Guangzhou (Canton). The procedure was more like an anthropological investigation than a standard clinical interview. Instead of applying conventional Western diagnostic categories, the interviewers asked open-ended questions and encouraged patients to describe the experience of depression and its meaning in their own terms.

Interviewers began with such questions as "When you are not well, how are you different from how you are normally?" Then they took their cue from patients' responses. Chinese and (in translation) American reviewers analyzed the resulting audiotapes and extracted a set of themes that they believe characterize a Chinese experience of depression.

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