“A culture-bound syndrome found in many American Indian tribes, characterized by thanatophobia, necromania, nightmares (1), asthenia, feelings of danger, anorexia, fainting, dizziness, anxiety, and hallucinations, the symptoms often being attributed by the afflicted person to witchcraft” (Ghost Sickness, 2015)
The culture bound illness I decided to research was ghost sickness. Ghost sickness is a culture bound syndrome that originated from the Navajo tribe, but is also found in other Native American tribes across the country,mainly in the Southwest and Southern Plains. Ghost sickness is thought to be the “possession” of one’s body by an individual who has been deceased from the world resulting in the development of elaborate rituals to defend against said spirits. It can be characterized by biological symptoms/features including but not limited to general weakness, lack of appetite, feeling of terror and despair, nightmares or night terrors, and the overwhelming feeling of suffocation.
It is thought to be an onset of loneliness and mourning of loved ones of the individual who has died, causing the spirit to stay on Earth rather than ascend to heaven and the sky. Because of this, the spirit is thought to leave behind rage and evil to wander the world. However, to affect a certain individual, it is thought to be brought on by obsession of death or the person that has been deceased/the individual who is causing their affliction.
Looking at it in a cultural dimension, the Native American culture that is has been connected to views this syndrome to be holistic in nature: the past, the present, and the future having an effect on a situation. The cycle must stop from the starting point, in other words the past, which will not continue and end up to affect the future, or the individual plagued by ghost sickness. In doing so certain measures must be taken to ensure that this cannot happen by means of proper burial rituals. In doing this, the spirit will ascend into heaven and leave no trace of evil on the world, being fully and utterly at peace.
Finally, looking at it from an individual aspect, the key point of this is the obsession of the deceased for the individual plagued. The suffer becomes obsessed with the individual who has passed, allowing the evil spirit to attach itself to their body. Most instances are believed to be a loved one, intimate or ancestral/kin. Looking back at the biological feature, the individual is usually affected by means of nightmares and night terrors prior to the onset syptoms of anxiety, depression, hallucentation, confusion, and feeling of suffocation. However, looking at it from a western standpoint, many doctors and psychologists believe that is it actually manic depressive disorder related to the loss of a loved one. It is believed that because the Native American tribes did not have a specific name for the illness at hand, the created this culture bound syndrome to explain the onset of depression after loosing a loved one.
Overall, the main point to take away from this sickness is to have a proper grieving process, which is important in any society.
Ghost Sickness 2015. 4th ed. Oxford University Press. (Accessed July 20, 2016)
Jackson, Yo. 2006. Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc, 2006. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (Accessed July 20, 2016).