From Culture Bound Syndrome ‘Susto’ to a Cultural Impression of Mental Disorders.

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Anthropology has become linked to psychology over the years and looks at the experience in the bounds of a person, their society and culture. Furthermore the understanding in mental disorders has changed because of the development of the disciplines and looks within a person’s cultural setting. “A seemingly endless controversy has exercised anthropologists as to whether there re cultural bound emotional disorders or simply ethnic variants of universal patterns of human aberration”(Landy,1985,850).This essay argues that even though cultural bound syndrome such as Susto are seen as imagined disorders, ethnopsychology shows that Susto should be consider as mental illness in Western standards. Psychiatry and psychology need to expand their knowledge into culturally specific illness to consider every case. In addition Anthropology also needs to bare in mind the biomedical causes as well as the physiological issues of culture bound syndromes.

There are many possibilities that make cultural bound syndromes different and authentic as a disorder. For example the way mental disorders are noted as ‘normal’ in the DSM. This is by the classifications of diseases called the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of American Psychiatric Association” (Simons and Hughes, 1985). The manual constructs authentic labeling of disorders of mental illness. In the past publicised data does not include cultural bound syndromes. Therefore cultural bound syndromes are seen by the medical community as bizarre cultural define behaviors. Recently as Hughes points out that the DSM III “is a major step towards meta-diagnosis; that is towards going behind the conceptual bounders of the traditional medical philosophy of diagnosis and looking at phenomenal of interest and the very purpose of such labeling in new way”(Simons and Hughes, 1985). This is because diagnosis of disorders has expanded in interest in the different fields of research, such as medical and psychological Anthropology.

So what makes a cultural bound syndrome different with a mental illness? Susto is a cultural bound syndrome that has many elements of a DSM disorder. However it is not considered as a true mental disorder. Susto is recognised by Latin American societies and considered as a person who has lost their soul or a freight illness. The fascinating thing about this disorder is that “literature has identified both natural and supernatural susto” (Olivo, 2006, 145). It can pass on to another person, for example a baby who is in their mother’s womb can develop susto if their mother has had a traumatic experience. Simons and Hughes state that the symptoms of Susto are “the separation of the spiritual and organic components in an individual is manifested in loss of appetite, weight, and strength; relentless when wake and depression and introversion, often characterised by loss of motivation to carry our even the most ordinary tasks” (Simons& Hughes, 1985, 334). This disorder does resemble depressive disorders in the DSM, however is not considered a mental illness.

Therefore it is useful to utilise Ethnopsychology, which is a subfield of cross cultural analysis and looks at the ‘other’ which is different with the examinations of culture in Anthropological terms. Ethnopsychology is “culturally rooted” (Wallace, 2006, 119) in its concepts and allows room to study ethnicity and culture in a psychological setting. This is a benefit towards mental illness’s and cultural bound syndromes and a “move towards a universal psychology that applies to all human beings” (Wallace, 2006, 119). Wallace believes that there are three realities that can be impacted by Ethnopsychology. The first is the “existence of a rich body of research findings on the links among culture and the human behavioral, mental and mental functioning of people. The second impact of this discipline is the “contribution to cross cultural training” (Wallace, 2006, 119). Moreover the third contribution is the “improvement of global and cultural relations among diverse people” (Wallace, 2006, 119,120). Even though cultural bound syndromes such as susto are seen as imagined disorders, ethnopsychology shows that cultural bound syndrome should be considered as a mental illness, because Susto has similar symptoms to conventional Western mental disorders.

Ethnopsychology is also known as indigenous psychology or the study of ethnic or cultural psychology. Wallace states that “indigenous psychology effectively corrects the ethnocentric tendency of Western psychological research in the way it selects topics of research, chooses instruments and research procedures create items and stimuli on tests, and defines theoretical concepts” (Wallace, 2006, 119).This is a major factor why there is a defined line between what is real and what is different in mental illness’s.

Additionally culture bound syndrome is investigated in an “exotic cultural expression” (Crandon, 1983, 153) and there has been two problems that have arisen when studying Susto especially in the Anthropology discipline and medicine. Crandon states that “these two views have become fundamentally at odds because one argues the necessity of understanding indigenous systems of logic to understand the illness itself, while the other argues that the logic of Western positivist science alone is necessary to both understand the disease as well as increase the potential for treatment” (Crandon, 1983, 153). Susto or any other culture bound syndrome needs to be respected. This is by asking the question why is there the disorder Susto? Rather than what causes the syndrome?

Crandon makes a good point that the problems that arise when studying susto “lies in an analysis of the diagnostic process and not in the cause” (Crandon, 1983, 153).Not all susto incident are the same and differ in places inLatin America, also in age and over time. Susto is a social affect rather than a psychiatric disorder. Young babies under the age of one do not suffer from drastic psychiatric disorders. There has been data of children at this age having susto. However illness’s with the similar symptoms of Susto are physiological. There has been little physiological study or data of the physical symptoms of susto only the psychological. Crandon argues that “anthropologists have tended to classify susto as a ‘folk illness because of difficulties encountered in attempts to find the biomedical syndrome that matches the set of symptoms reported by sufferers of susto” (Crandon, 1985, 158) Anthropology only looks at the meaning of the symptoms and symbolism within that culture and “casual theories are not enough” (Crandon,1985,166).

Moreover, Glazer points out in his article “susto and soul loss in Mexicans and Mexican Americans” (Glazer, et al. 2004) that Anthropological inquiry has tended to focus on susto as an exotic condition, possibly because of the nonbiological and ‘spiritual” or magical etiology in the treatment of susto” (Glazer, et al. 2004, 272). However there is physical illness that is associated with the culture bound syndrome. There are many issues when gathering information especially culture bound syndrome. Glazer evidence in his data conducted inMexicoandSouth Texassuggest that the investigation of susto needs to be categorised in biomedicine because the “data suggest that there is indeed “something to” a diagnosis of susto” (Glazer, et al. 2004, 286).
Another example that shows that Cultural bound syndromes are similar from conventional Western mental illnesses is as Bryon Good suggests the mental illness needs to be looked by the person social and cultural factors. Where a person’s life had has influences on their wellbeing and the outcome of their mental illness. In a Western view “mental illness is medically treatable and is a chemical imbalance of the brain” (Good, 1997, 231). However in a cultural specific category mental illness is seen as a “cultural interpretation thus shapes both social response and personal experience” (Good, 1997). In a non Western setting “where a sufferer is understood to be possessed by the illness (or a spirit), it is expected that the illness can be removed leaving the person relatively unimpaired” (Good, 1997).

Cultural bound syndromes are seen as imagined and illnesses in the DSM are looked at as factual disorders. If susto is put into Geertz approach the syndrome relates to a factual disorder because every society has different perceptions to their cultures and that means that social experiences vary. When looking into cultural bound syndrome like Susto, the meaning and construction of this cultural bound syndrome is important. If we only look through our own scope of ideas, we cannot see areas of research in diverse ways. In addition showing empathy and contributing to sufferer’s recovery from culture bound syndromes.
The reason why cultural bound syndromes such as susto are considered as imagined disorders is because, ‘Culture’ is part of a person perception about the world and is associated with their experiences. Our minds gather information to perform tasks and the external world is determined by our “emotional import of the pattern of events” (Geertz, 1973). Geertz states that our moods, attitudes, sentiments are our feelings and not sensations of motives. What he means by this is that our minds make up our feelings and therefore our motivation is the views that contribute to the world around us. In addition our attitude controls our perception of the world. We see our minds as a thinking and communication processor and not part of our physical body. The brain is considered as ‘different’ in context to the body getting sick. For example if someone gets sick with cancer they are treated for their physical illness.

On the other hand if someone appears to have a mental disorder it is considered foreign and bizarre. Cultural bound syndromes are seen as imagined and this is why many psychiatrist and psychologists only see mental illness as a structured ethnocentric system and do not see the variables of different cultural illness. If susto is put into Geertz expressions of the mind, the syndrome can interact, because every society has different perceptions to their cultures and that means that social experiences vary. When looking into cultural bound syndromes like susto, the meaning and construction of this cultural bound syndrome is important. If we only look through our own scope of ideas, we can not see areas of research in diverse ways. In addition showing empathy and contributing to sufferer’s recovery.

So you can see that although cultural bound syndrome such as susto are seen as imagined disorders, ethnopsychology shows that cultural bound syndrome should be consider like a mental illness for two main reasons. First, Cultural bound syndromes are similar to conventional Western mental. But most importantly; psychiatrists need to look at culturally specific illness to address every case. The experience in a mental disorder changes within people’s cultural setting. Because Cultural bound syndromes differ with conventional Western mental illnesses, psychiatrist and psychologist also need to expand their knowledge into culturally specific illness to address and considerate every case. Cultural bound syndromes such as susto are seen as imagined disorders, ethnopsychology shows that cultural bound syndrome should be considered as a mental illness and as a result misdiagnosis does not occur.

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Bibliography

 

Crandon, Libbet. “Why Susto.” Ethnology 22 (1983): 153,167. In Jstor [database online]. (AccessedSeptember 20, 2009).

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures, selected essays.New York:New York: Basic Books C, 1973.

Glazer, Mark, Roberta Baer, Susan Weller, Javier De Alba, and Stephen Liebowitz. “Susto and Soul Loss in Mexicans and Mexican Americans.” Cross-Cultural Research 38 (2004): 270-288.

Good, Byron J. “Studying Mental Illness in Context: Local, Global, or Universal?” Ethnos 25 (1997): 230,248. In Jstor [database online]. (AccessedSeptember 20, 2009).

Jilek, W. “CULTURAL FACTORS IN PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS.” Internet Mental Health. http://www.mentalhealth.com/mag1/wolfgang.html (accessedSeptember 24, 2009).

Landy, David. “Susto, a Folk Illness.” Science, New Series 228 (1985): 850,851. In Jstor [database online]. (AccessedSeptember 20, 2009).

Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology.Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc, 2006.

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