Culture-Bound Syndromes

One fascinating area of research on culture in mental health focuses on culture-specific disorders (also known as culture-bound syndromes). These terms refer two forms of mental illness that are unique to a certain culture or locale. Research in cultural psychology has taken two major approaches to understanding specific disorders. One approach the Absolutist view, holds that there are similarities in mental disorders across cultures convert the expression of these disorders differs from culture to culture. Absolutist researchers might focus on evidence that depression and schizophrenia can be identified in cultures throughout the world. A second perspective, the cultural relativistic approach, suggest that some disorders are unique to a specific culture and may only be understood within the context of that culture. Relativistic researches focus on the distinctive cultural features of some mental disorders. These two approaches were discussed in some length in chapter 2 of the Shiraev and Levy textbook.

Directions: Choose a culture specific disorder to investigate using library, internet resources or choose one from the list provided in this module. Before you start read to the questions that follow and be prepared to adjust these with the information you gather.

  1. Identify and describe the disorder you selected: Where does it take place? Who is affected by it? What is perceived to be the cause? What are symptoms? Does a culturally specific treatment exist? If so please explain.
  2. How are these people viewed within the community and how does their treatment compare to people from westernized cultures suffering mental illness? Are they stigmatized, shunned, or accepted?
  3. Please present an argument that compares and contrasts the Absolutist and Relativistic viewpoints (see chapter 2). In your argument, provide evidence (theory and/or research) that both supports and perhaps disputes each viewpoint.

Sample Solution

ACED ESSAYS