W2: Intercultural Comparisons of The Happening of Illnesses

Just as we have discussed before, a person’s cultural background affects their everyday thoughts, beliefs and their deep- rooted values. The way that anyone handles illnesses and treatments is completely up to them, and so it is hard to accept that they are following their own cultural beliefs when one doesn’t agree with their ways of treatment. For example, as an aspiring PA, I view illnesses as a result of some chemical imbalance in the body. The defective chemical and its effects on the brain then cause the disorder, such as schizophrenia. It is due to an imbalance of hormones and proteins in the brain that cause the symptoms such as hallucinations and the sounds heard by the afflicted. Although scientifically this is what causes schizophrenia, other cultures may believe that the illness is a spirit or a manifestation of what I would consider “bad juju”. Some people I suppose might believe that an illness can be attributed to both the chemical imbalance and bad juju (like karma). Most importantly, what they think causes the illness will in turn determine how they treat it. I once had a terrible cold and my grandma had made a joke that all I needed to do was “get a good prayer in” to feel better. Although she wasn’t serious, certain cultures may think that a prayer would help, especially if they thought the illness was from a spirit. Because what kind of pill can you take to get rid of an evil spirit? The afflicted would be more likely to use homeopathic medicine. Additionally, how people treat their symptoms affects how they participate in their social circle: they may pull away because of the illness or the spirit. It is logical to say that if they can control or alleviate their symptoms, most patients will then return as an active member of society. For example, some doctors conducted a trial by placing some schizophrenic patients on placebo, traditional medication, Chinese herbal medicine (CHM), or a mixture of both. The patients who were on both types of medications reported a higher rate of symptom relief, especially constipation, than any other group. This group had the lowest withdraw from treatment rate than any other group (Sarris). It’s interesting how two different forms of medicine could come together and work better rather than using just one. Moving forward, another thing to think about is that in the Kleinman reading, Mrs. Flowers asked if her emotional and mental health could affect her physical health. The doctor was focused solely on her hypertension, but I firmly believe that emotional stress can manifest itself as physical stress as well. In this case, I feel that holistic medicine would be useful, it could take care of her emotional needs, and in turn would likely reduce the physical stress that she is experiencing. This is a prime example of our topic for this week. The doctor is only looking at one side to her condition, the physical side, when really multiple types of treatment could be the best option for her.


Sarris, Jerome, ed. Herbal Medicines In the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Systematic Review. N.p.: Wiley InterScience, 2007. http://www.inimh.org/libdocuments/Herbal_Psychiatry_Review.pdf

2 thoughts on “W2: Intercultural Comparisons of The Happening of Illnesses

  1. Hi Mace,

    I really enjoyed your post, especially the personal example of your grandma joking about “get a good prayer in” because while she may be joking, it alludes to a very important point about how a person’s perspective influences their choice of treatment and their outcomes. As someone who has also spent many nights and expended a lot of energy studying the human body, I would agree with you that there are strong, biological causes for many, if not all, of these diseases. What seems to be common sense or logical to us, such as a disease causing pathogen infecting someone therefore producing illness and disease, may seem just as outlandish to them as spirit possession does to us in the Western world. However, as you said before, if the patient believes the cause to be supernatural, why wouldn’t they seek out spiritual aid? It is unfortunate that doctors here in the United States tend to only focus on the biological or physical factors, instead of the person as a whole, when treating patients. I wholeheartedly agree with your idea of treating illness from a multidisciplinary, holistic approach, as psychological and emotional factors also play an important role in health, and, as you mentioned in your post, could cause physical manifestations.


  2. I had many similar thoughts and beliefs as you. I am going to a pharmacist and to us, going into the medical field here in the Western world, we have a more pragmatic view of what illness is. We rationalize things into a way we understand, which is the same thing that someone who views illness in a spiritual causation would do. I had the same thinking when discussing that a person would treat an illness in the same manner, as how they believed it was acquired. For us, we believe that something like schizophrenia is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, thus we would use chemicals and medication as treatment. Our treatment matches our causation. For someone who believes that spirits cause schizophrenia, they would not use medication to treat this, they would be using a form of treatment that matches the causation. Prayer or witchcraft would be the way to rid a person of the spirits causing their schizophrenia. I also completely agree that a person’s physical health is drastically affected by their mental health. The two are directly linked they are symbiotic. Modern medicine needs to focus on treating all aspects of health and to embrace all forms of treatment.

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