W3 Activity: Susto in Latin American Culture

Susto is a cultural illness that exists primarily amongst Latin Americans.  Susto refers to being frightened; so scared that your soul leaves your body, due to an emotionally traumatic experience.  It serves as an explanatory model for Type 2 Diabetes, as many Hispanics are afflicted with it and are trying to make sense of it.  They believe that the fright and anger from susto is caused by the diabetes and they try to cure it with folk remedies.  Susto also causes anxiety, insomnia, depression, and a lack of appetite.  Those suffering from susto usually diagnose themselves or consult family and friends.  They also attempt to treat themselves using ‘barriadas’ or a sweeping motions in the sign of the cross on their bodies using eggs, lemon, and herbs.  The author of the article interviewed a number of Mexican-American’s in Texas suffering from Type 2 Diabetes and susto to ask them questions about their illness to see how well they understand it.  The author also wanted to understand how similar their beliefs of susto were compared to people actually living in Latin America.  Overall, they had a basic understanding of what diabetes was and the role of sugar and insulin in association with it.  When each participant was asked what they believe caused their illness, they all responded that it was due to susto from traumatic events including witnessing car accidents or the death of a family member.  In regards to treatment, most of the patients were on medication for their diabetes but also incorporated herbal remedies.  Similar to indigenous Latin American’s, they also attempted to heal themselves with pouring holy water on their bodies, prayer chants, sweeping palm leafs in the shape of a cross over their bodies.  This analysis highlights the importance of making an effort to understand the explanatory model’s of health in other cultures.  You have to see where their beliefs lie so you can teach them to understand their diagnosis and treat them in a manner that is appropriate to their culture and values.

Jane Poss and Mary Ann Jezewski, “Role and Meaning of Susto in Mexican Americans’ Explanatory Model of Type 2 Diabetes,”  Medical Anthropology Quarterly (2002).  360-77.



One thought on “W3 Activity: Susto in Latin American Culture

  1. Hi, Michelle

    I chose your post because Susto itself was an interesting topic that was related to Latin Americans. Also, it makes me curious whether Susto is considered as CBS or not.
    To me, a culture is a quality of life for the same group that shares certain rituals, beliefs and ethnic backgrounds. After reading your post, I would not consider Susto as CBS because Susto is defined as being frightened as if someone’s soul is leaving his or her body which does not convince that it is a cultural aspect for only Latin Americans. Also, Susto has different names for the same symptoms, so it could not be only considered recurring to Latin Americans. The advantage of Susto is that it can be a common illness that is called different names for different cultures, so it is not only for Latin Americans cultural symptoms, but also causing depressions and other psychological illness. Susto can be explained in different cultures as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This symptom is well known for many different countries and cultures which is really similar symptoms as well as Susto. In PTSD, the symptoms include feeling stressed and frightened even when he or she is no longer in danger. In addition, knowing different symptoms with similar illnesses would help to cure this one or the others. It is possible that group counselling sessions for PTSD or other similar illnesses might work as well on curing Susto.

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