Explaining Explanatory Models (With potential OITNB Spoilers. I apologize in advance)

In this weeks material we learned a lot about mental illness and explanatory models for understanding mental illness. In the McGruder reading we saw examples of three different families in Zanzibar who all have family members with schizophrenia. (1) McGruder explains that the worldview of the people in Zanzibar informs how they view schizophrenia as an illness. For instance, they tended to couple their religious beliefs with traditional medicine and bio-medicine as a way of treating the ill.  Because of the many ways that the people of Zanzibar believed that schizophrenia was caused and could be treated it almost seemed to me like the patients are able to get a treatment regimen that is more catered specifically to them and what they need. Maybe they need more natural medicine, or more prescription medicine, but with the help of their families most of the cases had used more than one method for treating the illness.

In the film we watched about schizophrenia over the last century we were able to see some of the ramifications of the explanatory model that has been used in the United States. In the video clip the presenter discusses that African American men are almost 6 times as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than their white counterparts. (2) He also mentioned that they are about 6 times less likely to be diagnosed with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. Another point that I found interesting in the clip is that police officers are more likely to arrest someone if they believe that they are schizophrenic. Both of these points show some pretty clear social and political outcomes surrounding how we understand schizophrenia in this country.

As I was thinking about other examples of explanatory models, I wanted to find an example that also dealt with schizophrenia but was different from the two that we learned about in class. This lead me to thinking about the character Lollie on the Netflix show Orange is the New Black. (This is from season 4, so if you watch the show and don’t want spoilers I am warning you now) While the show is fictional, it made me think of the explanatory model that is represented in the writing. Lolly is a character who has had schizophrenia since she was a young adult. She has delusions and episodes of paranoia, which ultimately costs her her job and forces her out onto the street. Because she is homeless she doesn’t have access to medical attention or psychiatrists to be diagnosed. However, when she begins to hear voices she finds that if she rings a bell in her ear it makes the voices go away. For Lolly since she was never diagnosed in a medical setting she doesn’t understand schizophrenia to be a medical issue and she is forced to figure out a way to treat it on her own. (3) I think it is a pretty interesting way to approach representing schizophrenia when person’s explanatory model doesn’t necessarily match that of our culture’s explanatory model.


  1. McGruder, Juli. Chapter 10 – “Madness in Zanzibar: An Exploration of Lived Experience” in Schizophrenia, culture, and subjectivity : the edge of experience, edited by Janis Hunter Jenkins.
  2. Book TV: Jonathan Metzl “The Protest Psychosis
  3. Orange is the New Black “It Sounded Nicer in My Head” Directed by Mark A. Burley written by Nick Jones and Jenji Kohen, Netflix. June 17, 2016

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