Could somebody be judged mad in the context of one culture but sane in the context of another culture?

Essay by raddieUniversity, Master'sA, September 2005

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The interplay between culture and mental illness has been studied intensely over many years and as a result the researchers involved have become aware of a wide variety of culturally sensitive issues surrounding specific forms of mental health problems. Greater demands than ever before are being placed on doctors and psychiatrists; in part due to the current free and easy movement of people between countries which means that they "must treat, patients from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds."(Gaw 2001: 73-74) As a result, some societies are experiencing illnesses previously unknown to them and the diagnostic element of psychiatry is being mired with alternative symptom presentation and alternative manifestations of illnesses.

Cross-cultural understanding has considerable implications when diagnosing culture bound syndromes (CBSs). The International Statistical Classification of Diseases-10(ICD-10) states that CBSs share two principle features: That they are not easily accommodated by the categories in established and internationally used psychiatric classifications; and they were first described in, and subsequently closely associated with, a particular population or cultural area.

The American Psychiatric Associations' (APA) recent inclusion of a glossary of CBSs within DSM-IV (APA 1994a: 844-849) marks an extraordinary leap forward in recognising a class of mental disorders once marginalised as ethnic psychoses or, in the worse case scenario as madness:

"Disordered in intellect; deprived of reason; distracted; crazy; beside ones self; furious....." (The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English language 1970)

Despite this, there is still a considerable amount of disagreement about the concrete definition of culture bound syndromes, Humphreys (1999) pointed out that ICD and DSM definitions make clear that the syndromes should be closely associated with one particular population or area, however several CBSs are found in quite a large number of cultures. As a result, Gaw (2001) attempted to clarify any ambiguity, in doing so...