What Role Does Culture Play In The Definition Of Mental Illness?

2293 words - 9 pages

"Emotional and mental disorder is widespread in human societies" (Ingham, 1996: 142). Vulnerability to emotional and mental disorder is inherent in the psychological characteristics of human beings because, like personality, disorder is a response to life events and particular social circumstances. Social experience and cultural settings are pertinent in the observation of the origins of disorder, as they affect both the inner experience of disorder and its outer manifestations. More important is an understanding that emotional expression - namely that of disorders such as depression, hysteria and schizophrenia - is both a natural and socially constructed part of social interaction (Ingham, 1996: 116). While a particular expressed emotion may exist cross-culturally, its definition and conception varies according to the culture in which it exists. The importance of culture also rings true when it comes to mental illness."Emotion occurs within the mind and the body, but it is also a social phenomenon" (Ingham, 1996: 116). Human beings experience emotion when participating in social interaction, as well as upon remembering or imagining people or events. Positive emotions often accompany love, attachment and empowerment, while negative emotions are often a response to losses, including those of love, status or reputation. When people are unable to express their emotions, or when expression fails to bring relief, the result may be emotional disorder, such as depression or hysteria (Ingham, 1996: 118). The symptoms of depression include sadness, loss of appetite, disturbed sleep patterns, feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts, as well as loss of pleasure in life. The common experiential core of depression in many cultures may be a feeling of meaninglessness and absurdity and a sense of emptiness and soul loss, while other symptoms vary (Ingham, 1996: 119). Verbalization of sadness, guilt and self-criticism is characteristic of westerners, whereas among people in many non-western cultures, depression may appear physically, in the form of fatigue, loss of appetite and energy, or bodily pain. While the outer symptoms of the condition may not be the same cross-culturally, the feelings associated with the actual depression are.According to Freud's reasoning, depression stems from identification with, and anger toward, a lost object. In his view, the person in grief identifies with the missing object in the sense where it becomes part of the self. While his theory may be true when applied to western cultures where childhood losses and separations may be precursors of some adult depression, it is unlikely to be the case in societies such as Bali for example, where aggressiveness is inhibited. If one were to apply western ideas of depression to the Balinese, who are by nature passive and emotionless, the conclusion may be that they are all suffering from an emotional disorder. Therefore, it is almost impossible to define a mental illness unless by the...

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