Psychiatry in current China

October 24, 2012

John G. Kerr (China Presbyterian medical missionary)

Neurasthenia was coined by George Beard, meaning exhaustion of nervous system, the symptoms include weakness, fatigue, anxiety, headache, poor concentration and memory loss. It has been supplanted by depression in US, but still used in China, though the diagnosis of neurasthenia is reducing and depression is increasing in China. Arthur Kleinman did research in China in 1980’s, diagnosed 87% of neurasthenia patients as depression in American standard, and concluded that the physical symptoms of neurasthenia represented “somatic idioms of distress”.

There are less than 20000 psychiatrists in China with 1.3 billion people, which is 15 times less than that in USA.

5.6% people who developed depression in Beijing/Shanghai received treatment (2009), which is 6 times below that in USA.

___from Kleinman, Arthur: Deep China: The Moral Life of the Person, What Anthropology and Psychiatry Tell Us about China Today

Psychiatry in China:

  1. Mentally ill patients with obvious disorganized behavior will be sent to psychiatric hospitals. But there are still many patients who have never been diagnosed and treated due to lack of access to psychiatric facilities or due to poverty.
  2. Patients with neurosis and most patients with depression are often diagnosed with neurasthenia, autonomous nervous disorder or other somatic illness. Most of them seek treatment from internal medicine doctors or other non-psychiatric physicians.
  3. People who are facing life stress, crisis or suffering from emotional stress without somatic complains mainly need psychological counseling or psychotherapy.
  4. All patients are likely to seek help from TCM.

____from Zhao, Xudong: Mental Health in Contemporary China in Incayawar, Mario: Psychiatrists and Traditional Healers: Unwitting Partners in Global Mental Health




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