Hwa-Byung: A Community Study of Korean Americans

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One hundred nine Korean American community subjects were interviewed regarding their experiences with hwa-byung (HB), a Korean folk illness label commonly used by Koreans with a myriad of physiological and psychological complaints. During these interviews, standard instruments were also used to assess their depressive and somatic symptoms. The results indicated that a relatively high proportion (12%) of the subjects labeled themselves as having suffered from HB. While no apparent sociodemographic differences were found between HB and non-HB subjects, significantly more HB subjects fulfilled the diagnosis of DSM-III major depression and also had previous diagnoses of depression. The HB subjects also had significantly higher scores for the total, depressive, and somatic subscales and 16 of the 20 individual items of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale. These data confirm previous observations of substantial overlap between HB and DSM-III major depression among Koreans and Korean Americans, and suggest that HB may be a culturally patterned way of expression for Koreans experiencing major depression and related conditions. The clinical and theoretical implications of these findings are also discussed.

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