The way we understand mental illness (and all illness really) is influenced by the culture we live in. The McGruder (1) chapter we read discussed the way world views affected the explanatory models of schizophrenia through his study of three different Zanzibarian families. In Zanzibar, religious beliefs like “spirits caused madness” are common when associating with mental health. Treatments include both biomedical (like hospitalization with therapeutic treatments) and traditional medicine (including herbal concoctions or religious rituals). What I also found interesting was how our world-views directly affected how we experience mental illness. Cultural norms, like the example given of the importance of keeping hatred to oneself and remaining cheerful to the exterior world, creates conflicts that differ from other cultures where norms might be switched. In McGruder’s description, anger and feelings that are to be kept to oneself are stored in the heart. One female patient studied said that she was most disturbed when she heard voices because it meant they could see into her heart (where she hid her “shameful” expressions). I think this study was so interesting because of the multifaceted approach to mental illness: the rich culture of Zanzibar had such direct influences over how they expressed emotion (emotions that are affected by mental illness), included in this culture was the religious belief that hardships are sent from Allah as obstacles to overcome, which increased the family’s support.
In contrast, the video we watched in class described the differences in the US’s explanatory model. The film discussed the effect ethnicity has on mental illness, comparing and contrasting white males with African American males (who are six times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia) (2). What was most interesting about this video was how starkly stigmatized Americans view mental illness, specifically schizophrenia: cops are more likely to arrest someone if they think that they are schizophrenic. It’s sad how scared we are of mental illness, and is interesting when compared to Zanzibar where mental illness is treated on multiple levels. I think that the way the Zanzibar people use their culture to understand mental illness makes it less stigmatized in their culture. Compared to the U.S. where we choose to ignore this population because the defy cultural “norms”.
I found an interesting journal article that looked at how our beliefs can aggravate mental illness in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry (3). This study looked at the mentally ill population in India, and how different beliefs about what causes schizophrenia. These varying beliefs had a big impact on treatment of the disorder. Some beliefs involved stigmatization which correlated with poor or no treatment of the disorder.
What I gained from this section was the importance of fully understanding a disease from all aspects: biological and socially. I also learned how important family relations are within the mental illness sphere because it can help or hurt an individual’s access to treatment. Within the United States, I think it’s important to educate the public on the facts surrounding schizophrenia (mostly how they aren’t a danger to others). I think that many of us get scared when facing something that so directly challenges social norms, and it’s easy to choose to stigmatize, keeping many individuals from seeking treatment or receiving proper care.
- 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.
- Book TV: Jonathan Metzl “The Protest Psychosis”.
- Charles, H., S.d. Manoranjitham, and K.s. Jacob. “Stigma and Explanatory Models Among People With Schizophrenia and Their Relatives in Vellore, South India.” International Journal of Social Psychiatry 53, no. 4 (2007).