Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 39, Issue 12, pp 967-974

First online:

The phenomenon of somatization among community Chinese Americans

  • Winnie W. S. MakAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong Email author 
  • , Nolan W. S. ZaneAffiliated withUniversity of California

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The phenomenon of somatization was explored in relation to the experiences of acculturation, stress, support, and distress.


A representative community sample of 1,747 Chinese Americans (aged 18–65 years), selected by a multi-stage household sampling design, in the Los Angeles County was interviewed to tap their psychiatric diagnoses, symptomatology, level of acculturation, stress, and support.


Across all indices, Chinese Americans’ level of somatic symptoms, impairment related to somatization, and percentage of meeting the Somatic Symptom Index 5/5 (SSI 5/5) criterion were comparable to those found in other populations. Length of residence in the U. S. and acculturation were not related to somatization. Regression analyses showed that anxiety, depression, gender, age, education, stressors, and support were significantly related to somatization, ps<0.05. Somatizers tended to perceive themselves with poor health and utilized both Western and indigenous Chinese medicine.


The importance of demographics, psychological distress, and stress was emphasized in the explanation of somatization tendencies among immigrant Chinese Americans. Somatization might be a stress response with regard to increased distress severity and psychosocial stressors rather than a cultural response to express psychological problems in somatic terms.

Key words

somatization anxiety depression service use acculturation Chinese American