W3 Activity: Brain Fag Syndrome


The Culturally Bounded Syndrome I have chosen to write about is Brain Fag Syndrome which occurs in varying African Countries such as Nigeria, Malawi, and Cote D’Voire.  This CSB is characterized by concurrent somatic symptoms such as neck problems and head pains as well as psychological symptoms such as sleeplessness, suppression of comprehension abilities, and the other cognitive impairments.  Awareness of this syndrome came originally from the 1960s and was believed to only be in Nigeria until later years when more nations started reporting of cases.  In trying to understand the syndrome which is predominant in African college students, researchers sought to analyze whether if there is a discernible difference between Brain Fag Syndrome and anxiety as well if it should be considered a mental illness or not.  To accomplish this, BFS is analyzed through four different perspectives: traditional medicine, psychoanalysis, biopsychological, and transcultural lenses.

Through this some interesting findings came to note.  First looking into the group of people affected, it is a very specific demographic with African Male college students of lower socioeconomic status as the main group.  Some theories as to why this is deals with a transcultural narrative where cultural pressures due to the expectations that those who have the opportunity to attend college will in turn bring back financial security to their families.  As to why BFS occurs mostly in men who were tested is believed to be because women who may be prone to BFS would be removed from school before higher education.

Many health institutes believed BFS to be just a symptom of studying habits so researchers looked through biopsychological approaches to look into the disease individuality and cognitive connections.  Looking into the habits of BFS sufferers, researchers noted that many of them had unhealthy sleeping habits which has a direct connection to other somatic functions.  Irritability and restlessness are common symptoms of sleep deprived individuals.  By looking into this, researchers have looked to intervene in the appearance of the syndrome by promoting better study habits with an emphasis on body care.  As well, researchers have looked into ways they can break tension between immense familial pressures to perform well academically.  Finally, some have responded well with antidepressants and other drugs to cope with mental anxieties.

4 thoughts on “W3 Activity: Brain Fag Syndrome

  1. Hi Ronald,

    I believe that culture is defined from our backgrounds, beliefs, religion, similar living style, and behaviors. I would consider Brain Fag Syndrome as a Culturally Bounded Syndrome because a lot of people seem to share the symptoms that are noted in BFS. Getting neck pain or back pain from lack of sleep happens at least once for everybody. I feel like people from different culture experience BFS, due to endless nights of studying, or lack of sleep. Although it doesn’t seem like a major illness, BFS could lead to anxiety and other mental illness. I think that it is BFS is very interesting, as a college student, I would possibly consider myself a BFS suffer. It made a lot of sense that college students would fall into the category of BFS suffers from all the bad “study habits”. After reading this post, I think I’m going to fix my daily schedule and try to prevent all the symptoms caused by BFS.

  2. Hello Ronald,

    Culture can be defined as a combination of local beliefs and practices which create a cohesive and unified approach to overall life. The general understanding of a unified belief system rooted in familial, societal, community and personal stimuli create what we understand as culture. In the case of Brain Fag Syndrome [BFS], the cultural pressures placed upon young African men receiving education at a higher level (college aged males) causes some mental anguish that presents itself as a clearly culture bound syndrome.

    These young men attending college are expected after completing higher education, to provide financial security and support to their uneducated family counterparts. This pressure to succeed for the benefit of the entire family can bring about patterns of rigorous and strenuous studying that present itself in a number of different symptoms. I think that this should be considered a culture bound syndrome because the root cause is based on the pressure placed upon a subgroup due to cultural practices of supporting ones family through academic success, which ensures a high wage.

    In American culture this can be similarly viewed as anxiety or perhaps even attention deficit disorder. Part of BFS is not only anxiety but a difficulty in concentrating, sleeping and focus. Researches as you have mentioned believe that this is a result of strenuous study habits and can be treated by using medication and training individuals under immense cultural pressure to focus more on better mental health.

  3. Excuse me, I forgot to include my source

    Ba Ola, “Brain Fag Syndrome – A Myth or a Reality”, African Journal of Psychiatry, June 10, 2009

  4. One’s culture is comprised of their system of beliefs, values, and habits. Culture defines people’s lifestyles in terms of languages spoken, the way they dress, what they eat, etc. I definitely believe that Brain Fag Syndrome is appropriately regarded as a culture-bound syndrome. This syndrome has been known to occur only in African, mainly Nigerian, cultures and leads to significant emotional and mental stress in students. It makes sense that the constant pressure from parents to succeed would cause sleep issues, depression, difficulty concentrating and even physical pain. While I do consider Brain Fag to be a culture-bound syndrome, I do not think that these problems occur solely in African/Nigerian societies. What they consider to be Brain Fag is regarded as depression or anxiety in most cultures. It is very common for all types of students in all sorts of cultures, especially those in university, to experience these symptoms of physical and emotional tension when parents are so involved in their children’s futures. I even experience this as a Middle Easterner with very strict parents. The stress of getting good marks in school while deciding what to do with the rest of your life is difficult enough without parents breathing down your back.

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