By Ethan Gilsdorf
January 24, 2010
Americans are a generous people. We donate riches to needy countries. We send our troops abroad. We have exported some of history’s most influential cultural, scientific, and social inventions: democracy, fast food, and Britney Spears.
Whether that generosity is helpful to other nations is another question. And so it goes with mental health. According to Ethan Watters in “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche,’’ the American way of perceiving and treating mental illness has quickly and ruthlessly become the worldwide way.
What is lost are local customs, beliefs, and practices that worked fine before the invention of antidepressants and antipsychotics. For example, people who suffer from schizophrenia in some developing nations tend to cope better than those in industrialized nations armed with “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’’ diagnoses. Why? In East Africa, for example, traditional beliefs in spirit possession help families accept schizophrenia and reduce social stigma. But Western ideas have “the effect of stripping away the local beliefs’’ that in practice can make people feel better.
Watters, who wrote “Urban Tribes,’’ an examination of the “never-married’’ generation, and “Making Monsters,’’ an indictment of the false memory movement, blends scholarship, journalism, and travel reportage to unearth this hidden story of good intentions in the mental health profession gone awry.
“Crazy Like Us’’ is both groundbreaking and shocking. By focusing on four countries and four disorders – anorexia in Hong Kong; post traumatic stress disorder in post-tsunami Sri Lanka; schizophrenia in Zanzibar, Tanzania; and depression in Japan – Watters shows how American mental health professionals and pharmaceutical companies, sometimes accidentally, sometimes insidiously, have actually hastened the spread of some Western disorders.
Read entire article: http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2010/01/24/making_the_rest_of_the_world_crazy/
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