W3 Activity: Ghost sickness

W3 Activity: Ghost sickness

I chose an article titled Ghost Sickness for this week’s activity on cultural bound syndromes. It talks about the cultural bound syndrome of ghost sickness and the Native American culture. It is believed that a person can have the spirit of a dead person attached to them in a negative way. This attachment drains the person which causes weakness, loss of appetite, nightmares, depression, fainting, and seizures. These symptoms are coined ghost sickness. It is said that a person can die from this issue because the spirit can draw the person’s soul into the realm of the dead. The article says that a funeral is the place that most people come down with ghost sickness. This is due to the fact that a dead person’s spirit will stay with the body until this ceremony until it chooses a new host to attach itself to. Children are thought to be effected by this sickness the most because Native American culture believes that their souls are not yet fully attached to their bodies because this comes with age.  It is believed that there are a few ways to treat ghost sickness in the Native American culture. These methods involve tricking spirits. One way is to remove a body through a hole in the wall of a house. The logic behind this is that the spirit cannot return to the house the same way that it left.  A trick to prevent this issue all together is to dress children up as adults when they attend funerals. Since they are the most effected, it is wise to try to preventative with them. A Shaman can also put an end to this issue by venturing into the spirit world to retrieve the ill person’s soul. The reality is that these symptoms can be related to issues like depression that could be treated in western culture with therapy. It is also possible that children are the most affected because their immune systems are not fully developed so they can be effected by a pathogen more than a grown adult.

Laycock Joseph. “Ghost Sickness.” Spirit possession around the world: Possessions, communion, and demon expulsion across cultures. 2015. Accessed: 06/03/15

8 thoughts on “W3 Activity: Ghost sickness

  1. Hi John. To me, culture is a way of life for a group of people who share certain beliefs, customs, behaviors, and rituals. I think Ghost Sickness could be considered a cultural bound syndrome, because it is specifically said to be caused by the spirit of a dead person, and the negative attachment of that spirit is what causes the symptoms. I feel as though in another culture, this could be described as someone suffering from a complicated grieving process, or that they are suffering from depression. In America, some people have a complicated grief process where they feel “stuck,” where that can not move on or cope, and this can lead to preoccupation with the loss and death, depression, withdrawal from normal activities, irritability, and agitation, although it doesn’t usually lead to the nausea and seizures that are associated with Ghost Sickness. I think it is interesting that children are more commonly affected by this sickness, and I am curious as to why that is. It makes sense that a shaman would be a good cure for the Native Americans, as shamans heal the soul, and Native Americans believe that a soul that is trapped or attached to a person’s body is what is causing the symptoms.

  2. To me Ghost Sickness fits the definition of a culturally bound sickness because I think that is unique to the culture that experiences it. To me culture is the combination of beliefs, traditions, habits and social behaviors of a group of people. Although different cultures have different ways of explaining similar phenomenons, it’s unique to the Native American culture to feel that the spirit of the dead might become attached to someone after a funeral and cause them sickness. Although some of the symptoms described, such as weakness, loss of appetite, nightmares, depression and fainting, are known to occur in other cultures after the loss of somebody in their community, it is unique to this specific culture to identify the cause of these reactions as being produced by a spirit ghost. I think one of the disadvantages in describing something as a culturally bound sickness is that it limits treatment methods that are used in other cultures. For instance I think that in most western cultures the negative mental and physical effects of being at a funeral would just be categorized as depression or sadness caused from losing someone or anxiety that results from seeing and experiencing death on a personal level. These symptoms then would be treated through psychology or through medication.

  3. Hey John! I would define culture as the shared beliefs, and formalities that make up a certain group of people within the same region. I do think that ghost sickness fits the idea of culture bound syndrome because it is something that is directly believed in the Native American culture. There’s nothing to say that their beliefs about ghost sickness is necessarily wrong and they see these symptoms as an effect of the ghost being attached to the person. Ghost sickness is not recognized in other cultures like in modern American culture. Rather, in the today’s modern American society, what Native Americans see as children being vulnerable to getting adopted by a ghost, we may see as children being at risk of developing a sickness because they generally have weaker immune systems. Furthermore, I agree with Jaclyn that a disadvantage of regarding something as a CBS is that it limits the methods of treatment for the sickness because of how other cultures would categorize it. For instance, in this specific case I think many cultures would categorize this illness as a mental illness like depression or anxiety which would be treated with psychotherapy and/or medication. An advantage specifically to the Native American treatment of this illness may be that they don’t have the chance of becoming addicted to many of the substances they are prescribed when being treated with medication.

  4. Hello!,

    Based off personal knowledge and from class materials, I think that culture describe the common beliefs, behaviors, and ideals shared within a group of individuals. In terms of a Cultural Bound Syndrome (CBS), I do think that “ghost sickness” could be considered a CBS because its a belief shared among the Native American community, and the symptoms are not recognized as a “ghost sickness” among communities that are culturally different. I believe the description given about a spirit attaches itself to a person is a belief that is shared among cultures that believe in it. In Western and some other cultures if someone was to experience these symptoms or events, then the person may be thought of as being possessed and could require religious intervention. Or, if a child was to watch a scary movie before bed and makes up with night terrors, it may be just thought of as having nightmares in some cultures. In American culture, this process may just be describe as the grieving process, but those who believe its the works of an evil spirit, then they may think differently and therefore may deal with it differently. Thats why I think its cultural bound because the symptoms and cause may occur in other cultures, but due to different beliefs, they may not all reach the same conclusions about what happened to the individual. The advantage of a CBS is that is commonly known within a culture, and therefore signs are recognized early which means treatment may be more readily available and be more successful. I would agree with Jaclyn that one of the main disadvantages of a CBS, is that the treatment options are limited because individuals in one culture may only practice certain treatment types, but the types of treatments used in other cultures may be more beneficial, but the beliefs and ideals of a culture may limit what they are willing to try.

  5. Hi John,

    This “Ghost Sickness” is an interesting condition because of its extremely deep spiritual ties to the symptoms of the disease. To me, culture is defined as a set of commonly practiced customs, activities, and beliefs that reflect a specific way of life. In this case, Native American culture has deep connections to the spirituality of individuals and nature and the rituals that they perform show up in this. First judging from the symptoms, it does seem very familiar to regular experiences that follow a death of someone that a person may know and regard. The interesting about it however is its abundance in children but that may can be seen as children may take death a bit differently than an adult who may start to learn how to recover from mourning. Because of this I don’t believe the condition is discernible enough to consider it a Culture-Bound Syndrome because the symptoms seem universal. Outside US culture, I would expect to see some similar cases of these symptoms in Eastern countries such as in China and Japan. Some cultures may have more impassive ways to deal with the death of others but that doesn’t fully consider everyone. In general, I believe consolation and antidepressants can help a lot with dealing with these symptoms.

  6. Hi John, I really enjoyed reading your post and found the CBS you chose to be very interesting. I do agree with you into saying that, to me, this illness should be considered a cultural bound syndrome. Culture to me is a group of people who live their life sharing certain beliefs, traditions, and specific customs that are shared within that group of people in a specific region. I think some advantages to ghost sickness being a cultural bound syndrome is that when someone does get sick in this type of situation, it can be explained and identified as ghost sickness within this group of people. I believe it is really important for people, especially when they have an illness, to be able to know and identify the types of symptoms they have into an some type of diagnosis. I think it is really important for people to find answers and even though this syndrome would not be accepted medically in the western culture, I believe it’s important for the Native American people to have answers for those who become ill. I think some disadvantages would be the simple fact that if the person who is ill has something that could medically be identified and they believe it is ghost sickness, then the treatment for ghost sickness would obviously not treat a specific disease, so it would be a case of misdiagnosis due to cultural beliefs. In the western culture, this could be explained simply as depression due to loss of someone in the community or even just exposure to some pathogen might also cause these symptoms.

  7. Hey John! To me culture is shared beliefs, traditions, ideals, and behaviors of a certain group. This is based off criteria we learned in class as well as personal experiences over the years. In my opinion, “ghost sickness” is definitely in the category of a culture bound syndrome. I believe this is because of common beliefs that are held within the Native American culture. This culture believes that the spirits of the dead can be attached to a living soul and essentially causing bodily harm. The main reason I believe this to be a CBS is because this perception of the sickness is significantly different in other cultures throughout the world. In the United States, this might be perceived as the grieving process after ones death. It would take some research to find out how it is perceived in smaller indigenous communities. In the United States, which is a completely different ethnomedical system, it might be treated with certain healing strategies such as psychiatry. Along with other people that responded to this post, I also feel like it is interesting that ghost sickness is more common among children. I believe that it is because children may perceive death differently than older people. “Ghost sickness” is treated in different ways in several different cultures. I believe that all of these aspects make “ghost sickness” a culturally bound syndrome.

  8. Hi John! I think this is such an intriguing post. I believe culture is a set of beliefs; practices and social trends that are associated and shared with a group of people and can be shaped or changed over time. I think it is fascinating that the predominance of this sickness is during funerals and with children, as I would assume that the issue of death tends to affect those of the elderly generation than very young children. It is common for the prevalence of this sickness outside Native American communities such as a few traditional African cultures of Bantu heritage like Shona, Zulu and Xhosa but it is slightly varied. Treatment for this sickness in these cultures would family intervention. Tending to those that have lost the loved ones through helping out with daily tasks and trying to reduce stress of things that are controllable are usually typical but actually talking about the grief that may be causing the sickness happens less frequently. This may be probably due to the stigma of mental health awareness in these cultures even in times of grief as it is deemed as a more westernized approach but could actually improve the overall coping of the person.

Leave a Reply