W3 Activity: Susto

Among the Latin American diaspora, “Susto” is a very prevalent culture-bound syndrome. A culture bound syndrome is considered a disease that is relative to a certain society. Susto means sudden fright in Spanish. ” It is known as the fear of losing one’s soul.”(O’Neil.) “Susto” is an ailment that can be best described as restlessness during sleep, and being weak and fatigued while awake.” (O’Neil.) Someone suffering from susto is usually extremely lethargic and tired all the time. They typically neglect their appearance and withdraw from social situations.  It is most common in parts of Guatemala and Southern Mexico. According to the article the following can all bring about cases of Susto or signs that you have Susto.  “The sudden, unexpected barking of a dog, being thrown from a horse, tripping over an unnoticed object, sharing a hospital room with a patient that has died over the course of the night, having a nighttime encounter with a ghost, being socially impinged upon by society, being in a social situation that causes you to have fear or become angry.” (O’ Neil.) Medically speaking, these types of symptoms can be common with someone suffering from a parasitic infection, malnutrition, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, general aging, etc.

It can be cured by a “curandero” which basically means “folk curer”. This person’s role would be similar to that of a shaman or medicine man. The ceremony starts with prayers and offerings to the church. Then herbs and chicken eggs are spread over the patient’s body. Then they often cover the patient in blankets to induce sweating or place the patient near a hot oven or stove. The idea is for the patient to then sweat out the Susto in order for them to regain their soul. “Milder cases can be treated with teas made from coca plants, orange blossoms, and Brazilian wood, or by sweeping the body with herbs. “(O’Neil.)


O’Neil, Dennis. “Medical Anthropology:Explanations of Illness” July 12, 2006 Accessed June 5 2015.

One thought on “W3 Activity: Susto

  1. Hi Deepa 😉 I’m commenting on your post! I miss you!

    The term culture to me is the combination of beliefs and experiences that are all shared by a group of people. Drawing from this definition of culture, as well as the information presented in your post, I would definitely classify Susto as a culture bound syndrome. I believe so because other cultures do not recognize it as an illness, and it shows no biomedical abnormalities. It is an illness that is affecting a similar group of people with the same beliefs. I think that it would be hard to not classify Susto as culture bound syndrome, and that it would be very difficult to classify it in any other category. Culture plays an important role in how illnesses like Susto are perceived and how a community may react to it. Looking at Susto in a different ethnomedical system such as in that of Western culture, I think that Susto would be treated more so based on the symptoms that this illness causes in the individuals, possibly through medication and therapy rather than the help of a curandero. It may be seen as a mental disorder such as PTSD or severe anxiety.

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