Understanding the Diversity of Disorders
The Captive Robin, John Anster Fitzgerald, c.1864
Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a hunting, for fear of little men.
Wee folk, good folk, trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap, and white owl feather….
By the craggy hillside, through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn trees, for pleasure here and there.
Is any man so daring, as dig one up in spite,
He shall find their sharpest thorns, in his bed at night.
The Fairies by William Allingham (1824-1889)
Elves, spooks, dwarves, demons, spirits, faeries, jinns, and all kinds of other-worldly creatures. The folklore of people around the world—and their serious belief systems too—are filled with them. Some of these entities are seen as elusive, playful, and mostly benign; others are viewed as noisome pranksters whose mischief interferes with one’s work and life; and still others are seen as malignant predators who can destroy people and thus need to be avoided or placated on a regular basis.
In member care, as in life, we want to promote understanding, respect, and competency regarding human diversity and cultural variation. Yet how far do we go when someone’s belief system significantly contrasts with our own worldview, scientific approach, and understanding of the development and resolution of human health issues? In some cases we can find some sturdy common ground (e.g., seeing sadness as being related to hard experiences). In other cases though the only common ground is quicksand (e.g., an acute life-threatening bout of appendicitis or cerebral malaria being related to the evil eye and needing to be treated via a potion or talisman.)
As the culture-bound syndromes and international case studies below indicate, people from so many cultures do in fact attribute their “visible wellbeing to invisible beings” along with nasty curses and a host of other ideas which baffle our understanding of “cause and effect” (e.g., shenkui in China involves marked anxiety or panic accompanied by semantic complaints in males, attributed to excessive semen loss.) Many cultures still view human health, including the origin and cure of problems then, as inextricably influenced by a supernatural or at least paranormal world.
Ready to be stretched in your understanding of mental health in different cultures? If so, tighten your belts, unpack your conceptual bags, put your conventional member care tools temporarily in the file cabinet, and try to get a hold of (and grasp!) the “unusual” materials from the sources below!
Or if you can’t wait to locate/access these sources, then check out Curious Mental Illnesses Around the World and read the short descriptions of koro, latah., brain fag, anorexia, and amok.
For an overview of culture bound syndromes, go to: http://homepage.mac.com/mccajor/cbs_intro.html
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fourth Edition TR (DSM IV-TR)
(American Psychiatric Association, 2000)
This is the most widely used diagnostic manual for psychological disorders. The fourth edition was published in 1994, revised in 2000, and the next version is due in 2013 (DSM-V). One of its most helpful contributions regarding the role of culture is found in the appendix "Outline for Cultural Formulation and Glossary of Culture Bound Syndromes". It consists of two parts:
• a. Part one is a short outline to evaluate the cultural context as it relates to diagnosis and treatment (e.g., cultural identity/connection, cultural explanations of a person's problems, cultural understanding of social stressors and supports, cultural factors influencing the client-clinician relationship, and the overall impact of cultural factors on diagnosis and care).
• b. Part two provides a fascinating list of some of the more common "afflictions and illnesses" that are found in different cultures and which can be encountered in clinical practice. Some of these conditions overlap with DSM-IV diagnoses although often the types of symptoms, course, explanations, and social responses are influenced by the local cultural perspectives. Unfortunately we have not found an online source for viewing this material (please let us know if you find one) and hence one has to get a hard copy of the book.
Diagnostics and Statistics Manual IV-TR Casebook
(American Psychiatric Association, 2000)
The very helpful casebook includes 70 pages of various examples of diagnoses and problems in different countries and cultures. These examples are included in the section called "International Cases." This section offers the local cultural/indigenous views of afflictions/illnesses along with DSM IV diagnostic considerations. You will note that in many of these cases there is the attribution and complaint some sort of spirit possession/influence. Unfortunately we have not found an online source for viewing this material (please let us know if you find one) and hence one has to get a hard copy of the book.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What did you think of the descriptions of the disorders mentioned in:
2. How might some of the supernatural attributions in other cultures affect the member care work you do or as you live and work cross-culturally? Any examples?
3. Disorders in Western psychology usually involve three elements:
**Duration over time.
Recall a situation in your life when you were really struggling and all three elements were going on.
Did you have a “disorder” and if so what was it?
4. Some argue that disorders are better understood as responses to life circumstances/challenges rather than some invading pathogen or pathological entity. What do you think?
5. In your worldview, is there a distinction between imaginary spirits and actual spirits? If so, describe.