Brain Fag Syndrome in Africa

The article I chose to summarize is called “Brain Fag Syndrome – a myth or a reality”. Brain Fag Syndrome (BFS) is identified in DSM-IV as a cultural bound syndrome. BFS symptoms and complaints consist of those of cognitive impairments, problems sleeping and other kinds of somatic impairments relating to inabilities to understand words or to concentrate. This illness is first mentioned in the 1960’s among African students. This article goes into detail about BFS’s history, especially that dealing with the perspectives given on it by Traditional medicine, Psychoanalysis, Biopsychological and Transcultural psychiatry. It concludes that BFS is real and is best recognized in the structure of psychiatry, psychology, and sociology. The treatment of BFS though is one that needs to have further research and attention given to.
As mentioned before Brain Fag Syndrome deals with more cognitive impairments and complaints that involve neurological uses (ex: optical impairments). BFS has been seen in students from multiple African countries, from Nigeria, to Uganda, to Liberia and South Africa. This article does a good job looking into BFS literature from the 1960’s – 1979 in countries mentioned above as well as others. It also does an excellent job talking about gender biases in their reviewed literature that would suggest that Brain Fag was commoner in males, which is speculative because many times there would be a greater number of males in the education system.
This article stresses the importance of looking at patterns of symptoms to determine if a person has BFS. The article specifically says “Any cultural belief that may be related to stresses encountered or coping mechanisms used will need elaboration [in the further study of BFS] so that underlying cultural attributes can be revealed” (BA Ola 142). This observation is really important if treatment response and outcomes are to be studied further in the future which is what this article stresses near its conclusion. Treatment methods themselves were not discussed in this article, but by the quote mentioned above from the article it is clear that BFS could be treated by any of the models/sectors depending on the person’s cultural background.

BA Ola, O Morakinyo, AO Adewuya. “Brain Fag Syndrome – a myth or a reality,” African Journal of Psychiatry 2009;12: 135-143, Accessed July 18, 2014. http://ajop.co.za/Journals/May2009/May09_6.pdf

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Victoria Heilmann says:

    I would personally define “culture” as a group of people or a society and their traditional social practices usually regarding arts, food, religion, health, and lifestyle. Their practices are often spread down throughout several generations and not limited to occurring only within a local civilization. A CBS (which is a Culture Bound Syndrome) is a type of illness that for some reason strictly affects one culture and may be seen and treated in certain ways depending on what culture it exists within. Sometimes Western medicine may not classify it as an actual illness or disease but it can still be considered a CBS. I think that BFS (which is Brain Fag Syndrome) can definitely be classified as a Culture Bound Syndrome because it is definitely an illness with both physical and psychological symptoms that affect the patient. It is also very culture bound because it specifically occurs within several countries all within Africa. It has also been occurring in the culture of these people for quite a long time meaning that it occurs very consistently. The advantage of considering a CBS is that the people who get the syndrome can be treated because people believe it is a real health problem. The disadvantage of this is that people in other cultures may not think of it as very real and treatable because it does not occur across various places. This condition could be explained very differently in a different system or culture because it may just be classified as psychological issues that would be treated with some medication and therapy.

  2. Ashley Lathrop says:

    Culture to me is a collection of elements that are shared by a group of people. These elements include traditions, religion, arts, language, ideals, morals, food, healthcare practices and basic idea of how society should operate. I would absolutely consider Brain Fag Syndrome or BFS as a cultural bound syndrome. Cultural bound syndrome is a disease that’s only recognized in a specific culture and Brain Fag Syndrome fits that description. It occurs in various countries in Africa and affects the psychology and sometimes even the physically (eyesight). Also, as stated in the post, BFS is treated based on a person’s background. So this disease acknowledged in different areas but is treated in different ways based on that culture. I think that is another reason why BFS is a cultural bound syndrome. Some advantages of this being a culture bound syndrome would be that it’s already understood to some extent within the society. This way there might be ideas of how to cope or cure the issue at hand. This can be helpful in accepting BFS and maybe the school systems and communities have resources to help people affected by this out. However, the disadvantage to this is that there might be some confusion or misunderstanding to those outside of this community. If there are researchers observing from an outside community, they might not view BFS as a credible diagnosis. Also, people within the community may rely on that even though it may be a multitude of other issues. When reading the description of brain fag syndrome, I found a lot of similarities to what is abundant in our culture and that is ADD or ADHD. BFS symptoms included cognitive impairments and inability to concentrate; these are conditions that make us think ADD. In our culture, I believe that BFS might be viewed as ADHD or a learning disability. It might even be linked to dyslexia or developmental delays. I do not think the syndrome would be adopted in our culture like it was in countries in Africa, but I do believe that the symptoms might fit a couple categories that we already have established.

  3. Ashley Lathrop says:

    Culture to me is a collection of elements that are shared by a group of people. These elements include traditions, religion, arts, language, ideals, morals, food, healthcare practices and basic idea of how society should operate. I would absolutely consider Brain Fag Syndrome or BFS as a cultural bound syndrome. Cultural bound syndrome is a disease that’s only recognized in a specific culture and Brain Fag Syndrome fits that description. It occurs in various countries in Africa and affects the psychology and sometimes even the physically (eyesight). Also, as stated in the post, BFS is treated based on a person’s background. So this disease acknowledged in different areas but is treated in different ways based on that culture. I think that is another reason why BFS is a cultural bound syndrome. Some advantages of this being a culture bound syndrome would be that it’s already understood to some extent within the society. This way there might be ideas of how to cope or cure the issue at hand. This can be helpful in accepting BFS and maybe the school systems and communities have resources to help people affected by this out. However, the disadvantage to this is that there might be some confusion or misunderstanding to those outside of this community. If there are researchers observing from an outside community, they might not view BFS as a credible diagnosis. Also, people within the community may rely on that even though it may be a multitude of other issues. When reading the description of brain fag syndrome, I found a lot of similarities to what is abundant in our culture and that is ADD or ADHD. BFS symptoms included cognitive impairments and inability to concentrate; these are conditions that make us think ADD. In our culture, I believe that BFS might be viewed as ADHD or a learning disability. It might even be linked to dyslexia or developmental delays. I do not think the syndrome would be adopted in our culture like it was in countries in Africa, but I do believe that the symptoms might fit a couple categories that we already have established.

  4. AnnMarie Maniaci says:

    Culture, according to my own definition, is a group of people with the same beliefs, lifestyles, and traditions. In many cases, this group of people is from the same ethnic background and is the same race. I personally have a hard time categorizing Brain Fag Syndrome as a culture bound syndrome. While the people of west Africa are under pressure during school and working to provide for a family, so are people of other cultures, including western culture. I know I always get very stressed out during an exam, or I sometimes get easily distracted when I’m uninterested in what I’m supposed to be focusing on. However, the fact that over 50% of people living in west Africa have these issues is a sign that it somehow came from their culture. An advantage of Brain Fag Syndrome being defined as culture-bound is that it is easier to find the cause of it, and therefore find ways to alleviate the symptoms and even cure it. However, a disadvantage of BFS stated as a culture-bound syndrome is that it isn’t necessarily anything having to do with genetics, but rather their way of living, things that are ingrained in their traditions and practices. In this sense, people of other cultures might look at this disease as not as serious, or easily fixable. Other cultures might disregard the syndrome as not being an issue, when in reality it is affecting an extremely large amount of individuals in Africa, and these people need help to cure the symptoms.

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