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.