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Living on their Nerves: Nervous Debility in Northern Ireland

There is a growing literature on the etiology and experience of "nerves," and physicians and social scientists alike are increasingly recognizing that this is a widespread complaint that occurs in many different cultures with diverse cultural interpretations (Low, 1985). In recent years, scholars have emphasized the importance of cultural variation and social structural factors in the etiology and experience of nerves (e.g., Davis & Guarnaccia, 1987; Low, 1985). Davis and Guamaccia (1987, p. 2) have noted that nerves is "an emically derived, popular, variable, multipurpose complaint which transcends mind, body, and culture," and argue that the phenomenon "is best understood through anthropological investigation and analysis."