The conventional wisdom among psychiatrists is that Chinese people are more apt to internalize their anxieties and develop physical symptoms, while Americans are more likely to be depressed.
The truth, according to computer analysis of almost 200 cases, is that Chinese patients are just as depressed as the Americans, maybe more, but the psychiatrists often fail to recognize it because of cultural differences.
Patients at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and the Taipei City Psychiatric Center in Taiwan were compared, with the assumption that "more patients in the United States would be neurotically depressed and that more patients in the Chinese population in Taipei would have somatic symptoms," Dr. Joe Yamamoto and colleagues wrote in The American Journal of Psychiatry.
And based on the doctors' diagnoses alone, that is what they found.
But when a computer looked over the interviews with patients, basing its diagnoses on standard, objective definitions, "the opposite pattern of results emerged: the Chinese patients appeared to be more depressed . . ."
The authors suggest that Asians may be unlikely to admit feelings of depression, and the psychiatrists therefore do not diagnose depression. The more objective computer, looking only at symptoms, would have no such bias.
They said other cultural differences make it hard to compare psychiatric problems in the two countries.