Running Amok in Malaysia

Running Amok is a rare culture bound syndrome most prevalent in Malaysia, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines although there are traces of it in modernized cultures. Running Amok refers to a condition in which an individual becomes erratic and irrational and causes havoc along with the homicidal and subsequent suicidal actions of such individuals, which often result in the fatalities and injuries of other individuals. An individual on an Amok spree is usually killed by bystanders during an attack if they do not commit suicide first.  Running Amok is considered to be a psychiatric condition. This CBS was discovered about two centuries ago among primitive island populations and interestingly, culture was considered a predominant factor in the development of the condition. This was thought to be a result of the geographic isolation of the tribes and their spiritual practices. The characterization of Amok does not recognize that some of the behaviors of the CBS have been observed in western cultures with no geographic isolation and although it is considered a rare disease, displays of Amok’s characteristic violent behavior have become common not in the indigenous societies they are thought to have originated, but among modernized cultures. Mythology considered Running Amok to be an involuntary ailment caused by an evil spirit entering the body, resulting in violent behavior the afflicted individual was unaware of.

Culture is the most important factor in evaluating the manifestation of Running Amok. A strong belief among cultures with frequent cases of Running Amok is that the condition is culturally induced, with there being cultural factors only observed among these primitive tribes that caused Amok. Culture also heavily determines behaviors that individuals will manifest. Characteristic of a CBS, Running Amok occurs in many unrelated cultures. Biologically, Running Amok is considered the result of a mental disorder, personality pathology, and psychosocial stressors. Certain individuals may also be predisposed to the characteristic behaviors of Amok. Individually, patients are assessed for risk factors known to be affiliated with violent behavior. After an episode, the attacker often experiences amnesia.

In these cultures, Running Amok is presently being evaluated as an outcome of an undiagnosed psychiatric condition. Prevention is considered the only way to avoid the consequences of Running Amok because it is virtually impossible to stop an Amok attack without being at risk of losing one’s life. Prevention is only possible with prompt recognition and treatment of the Amok. In the professional sector, individuals displaying this erratic behavior often seek the help of medical practitioners before homicidal and suicidal behavior manifests. Patients even prefer seeing physicians instead of psychiatrists because of the stigma associated with mental disorders. Additionally, there is no medication proven to treat specifically violent behavior, although antidepressants can be used for individuals experiencing depressive disorders. In the popular sector, the patient’s family and social support network are enlisted in psychotherapy, a technique often used to prevent violent behavior.


Saint Martin M.D. J.D., Manuel L. “Running Amok: A Modern Perspective on a Culture-Bound Syndrome.” Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry, June 1999. Web. 20 July 2012. <Running Amok: A Modern Perspective on a Culture-Bound Syndrome>.

Leave a Reply