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Originally published June 11 2010

America infects the world with its false beliefs about mental illness

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) U.S. ideas of mental illness are spreading around the world, leading to an actual change in the kinds of mental disorders experienced in other cultures.

In contrast to the view held by modern psychiatry, the forms of madness have varied widely throughout space and time -- including such unique phenomena as "amok," in which men from certain Southeast Asian cultures would go into a murderous rage then forget about it; zar, in which Middle Easterners would experience dissociative episodes marked by laughing, shouting and singing; and a wave of leg paralysis that struck European women in the late 1800s.

"We might think of the culture as possessing a 'symptom repertoire' -- a range of physical symptoms available to the unconscious mind for the physical expression of psychological conflict," wrote Edward Shorter of the University of Toronto in his book Paralysis: The Rise and Fall of a 'Hysterical' Symptom.

Yet the standard manual for psychological diagnosis, the DSM-IV, crams all such conditions into five pages under the heading of "culture-bound syndromes." All other conditions in the book are presumed to be real, physical disorders independent of culture.

Evidence does not support this supposition, say a growing number of anthropologists and cross-cultural psychiatrists. As evidence, they point to mental disorders such as anorexia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that were once virtually unknown in most cultures and are now spreading rapidly as a direct consequence of their media portrayal. This was precisely what happened in Hong Kong in the 1990s, when media reports portraying anorexia in a Western fashion led to the near disappearance of the rare local version of the disorder and a huge increase in prevalence of the Western type.

Studies show that the Western "disease model" of mental illness is becoming more widely accepted worldwide. Yet they also show that the more people subscribe to the idea that the mentally ill have something wrong with their brains, the more frightened and harsh they become toward such people.

This may go a ways toward explaining why schizophrenics in Third World countries continue to cope much better over time than those in the First World.

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