A person’s understanding of a sickness, disease, or illness originates from the culture that he or she is in. An individual comes up with an explanatory model (Gabriel) of the illness and understands it in a certain way depending on how the society they are in understands it. They are influenced by the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of those around them. Their personal understanding of the illness can influence their treatment options in several ways. First, they could agree to the diagnosis and react positively to the doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan. However, this is if the doctor shares the same explanatory model (Gabriel) of the situation as the patient. If the doctor’s explanatory model does not align with the patient’s, problems can occur. In order for treatment of a diagnosed illness to be successful, the doctor and patient must agree and have a mutual understanding of the situation. Not agreeing on the diagnosis and treatment can result in negative outcomes. In the example of Ebola in Africa (Gabriel), the local people and western health workers had different explanatory models of the illness and thus, a mutual agreement of how to abolish the illness could not be met. Locals were frightened when the health workers came in wearing suits and drawing blood and speaking a foreign language. When locals still continued to die despite the health workers presence, locals became suspicious and even more scared. This concept is also represented in Anne Fadiman’s book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. In this ethnography, Fadiman explores the life of a Hmong family living in the United States and the daughter suffers from epilepsy. However, the family and the doctors at the local hospital have vastly different ways of interpreting the girl’s illness. As a result, treatments are continually not successful because of the distrust between the two groups.
The point is that the two groups in each scenario had different ways of thinking about how to deal with the two illnesses, which lead to inefficient treatment. Western health workers had the idea of seeing the illness from a biological perspective and focusing only on the sickness. This would make sense because mental illness is partially caused by “a combination of biological factors that create a vulnerability” (What is Mental Illness?). However, it should be noted that looking at the illness in the context of the patient’s life can be equally as beneficial (Gabriel). Treatment of a mental illness is determined by which explanatory model (Gabriel) lens is being looked through and so, doctors and patients need to combine their possibly different models to create a treatment that is most beneficial.
“What is Mental Illness?” Darwin Palmerston Sun. October 3, 2012.