Rethinking neurasthenia: The illness concepts of Shenjing Shuairuo among Chinese undergraduates in Hong Kong
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Neurasthenia is both a Western disease construct and a popular Chinese illness concept (shenjing shuairuo, SJSR). Using a self-report questionnaire, we examined 148 Hong Kong Chinese undergraduates' concept of its epidemiology, symptomatology, etiology and treatment. Notwithstanding that fatigue is thesine qua non of neurasthenia in Western nosology, subjects believed that SJSR was compatible with a diversity of symptoms which fell, on factor analysis, into the “neurotic,” “psychotic”, “somatic” and “dysfunctional” subgroups. Contrary to the popular portrayal of SJSR as a physical or chronic fatigue disorder, the most common perceived symptoms were anxiety, insomnia, depression and fright. Logically, psychological etiology and remedy were highly emphasized. The perceived high prevalence, non-aggressive nature and symptomatic diversity of SJSR attested to the notion that it might camouflage and destigmatize psychiatric labels of insanity. The contextual study of neurasthenia illustrates how in its search for legitimacy an originally Western concept adapts, transforms, and acquires distinctive local meanings in a non-Western culture.
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