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Schizophr Bull. 2010 Jul;36(4):836-45. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbn180. Epub 2009 Feb 4.

"Excessive thinking" as explanatory model for schizophrenia: impacts on stigma and "moral" status in Mainland China.

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Department of Epidemiology/School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY 10032, USA.


Although psychiatric stigma in China is particularly pervasive and damaging, rates of high expressed emotion ("EE" or family members' emotional attitudes that predict relapse) are generally lower than rates found in Western countries. In light of this seemingly incongruous juxtaposition and because Chinese comprise approximately one-fifth of the world's mentally ill, we examine how one of the most widely held causal beliefs of schizophrenia--excessive thinking (xiang tai duo)--may powerfully shape how those exhibiting psychotic symptoms pass from "normal" status to stigmatized "other." Using a framework by which stigma threatens an actor's capacity to participate in core everyday engagements, we examine how expressions of excessive thinking intersect with psychotic symptoms and how this idiom reduces stigma by preserving essential moral standing. Four focus groups with family members (n = 34 total) of schizophrenia outpatients, who had participated in psychoeducation, were conducted in Beijing. Open coding was conducted by 2 bilingual coders achieving high interrater agreement. Common expressions of excessive thinking--taking things too hard that is perceived as a causal factor and unwarranted suspicion that is used to benignly interpret paranoid symptoms encapsulated disruptive behaviors that closely overlapped with psychotic symptoms. Because excessive thinking is understood to occur universally, this idiom encourages socially accommodating behavior that signifies acceptance of these individuals as full-status community members. In contrast, due to beliefs implying moral contamination, those labeled mentally ill are threatened with both subtle and outright social exclusion. We discuss implications of this idiom for EE and the detection of schizophrenia "prodrome" in China.

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