Friday, March 19, 2010

Rasmussen, Andrew. "Americanising the Global Mind." STATS March 15, 2010.

Watters, Ethan. Crazy Like Us: the Globalization of the American Psyche. New York: Free Press, 2010. Watters’ central thesis goes something like this: by expanding their realm through the forces of globalization, American mental health professionals are harming other societies by introducing Western symptoms into the way people in other cultures express their distress and replacing the local explanations for mental health problems with Western scientific models. He begins by introducing readers to a fact that many of us who study mental health globally know well: the expression of and explanation for mental illness depend in part upon the culture in which the individuals afflicted reside. In the language of the field, they are “culturally-mediated.” Watters provides several good examples of this in Crazy Like Us, but the clearest articulation comes from McGill Unversity Professor, and Editor of Transcultural Psychiatry, Laurence Kirmayer who is interviewed at length. Kirmayer explains that most cultures have an experience of isolation and decreased motivation that we, in the United States, typically, would call depression. In India this might be characterized by a feeling that the heart is physically descending in the body, in Nigeria by reports of a peppery feeling in the head, and in Korea by “‘fire illness’… a burning in the gut.” Readers interested in hearing a compendium of foreign mental illnesses will not be disappointed. Most of these have analogs in the West (as with depression), but others do not. The most infamous of these is koro of Southeast Asia, or the sudden feeling that one’s penis is decreasing in size or disappearing altogether. If this sounds amusingly off-beat, an outbreak of a similar condition in the 1990s in a number of West African countries resulted in mobs beating and killing several women suspected of witchcraft. These psychological phenomena are real in that they have real behavioral consequences. These “indigenous” disorders are being displaced by Western concepts primarily, Watters claims, by unwitting journalists in the developing world who defer to Western experts and by adventurous Western mental health professionals out to do good. Westerners introduce ideas of how mental health problems should be expressed – or, more accurately, how they are expressed in Western culture – and sufferers hear about these and mimic them. . . . Read the rest here: http://stats.org/stories/2010/americanizing_global_mind_3_15_10.html.

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