Transcultural Aspects of Somatic Symptoms in the Context of Depressive DisordersBagayogo I.P. · Interian A. · Escobar J.I.
aOffice of Global Health, UMDNJ - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, N.J., bDepartment of Psychiatry, UMDNJ - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, N.J. and cVA New Jersey Health Care System, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Lyons, N.J., USA
Somatic symptoms are a common presentation of mental disorders or psychological distress worldwide, and may often coexist with depressive and anxiety symptoms, thus accounting for what might be the most frequent psychiatric syndrome in primary care. Indeed, physical symptoms accompanying the clinical presentations of a variety of mental disorders may be considered as universal ‘idioms of distress' that may vary across cultures, depending on attitudes and explanations embedded in each one of them. These variations in symptom presentations are the result of various interacting factors that ultimately determine how individuals identify and classify bodily sensations, perceive illness, and seek medical attention. This chapter examines the impact of culture on the experiencing of somatic symptoms, based on an inclusive review of the topic from ethnic, nosological, clinical and social perspectives. Particular attention is paid to the association of somatic symptoms with mood symptoms, since depressive disorders appear to be the most common, costly and disabling psychiatric entities worldwide. The review shows that racial/ethnic variations in somatic symptoms in the context of depression are common, and seem to be related to depression severity. Sociocultural factors, particularly stigma, may influence the unique emphasis placed on somatic symptoms within depression, and may account for some racial/ethnic differences in somatic symptom reporting.
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