Schizophrenia and Cross-Cultural Mental Illness and Treatment

The Foundation for Psychocultural Research hosted a great conference last January, Cultural and Biological Contexts of Psychiatric Disorder: Implications for Diagnosis and Treatment. We highlighted the conference previously on Neuroanthropology, and Somatosphere provided a useful review of the conference highlights back in February.

FPR has now started to post videos and blog posts that resulted from the conference. You can find the Foundation for Psychocultural Research blog here, and the FPR YouTube channel here.

I’ll focus on schizophrenia. On Youtube, you can find Elyn Saks, Eric Kandel, and Kay Jamison discussing the importance of psychodynamic therapy, and whether it is useful in schizophrenia and for whom.

Over on their blog, science writer Karen Frenkel’s post Surviving Severe Mental Illness in the US and Indonesia highlights the discussion among Elyn Saks, whose book The Center Cannot Hold documented her experiences with schizophrenia, and Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, which chronicles her struggles with manic depression.

Rob Lemelson, the anthropologist, then recounted his experiences studying and documenting mental illness and trauma in Indonesia. Lemelson’s documentary Shadows and Illuminations – you can see the trailer here – provides the cross-cultural view on schizophrenia:

Shadows & Illuminations follows an older Balinese man, Pak Kereta, as he struggles with the intrusion into his consciousness of spirits. The role of violence and loss, his interactions with healers, and what role a psychiatric diagnosis of schizophrenia entails are explored.

Lemelson describes what he learned through his work in Indonesia:

Pak Kereta (the main character in Lemelson’s documentary, Shadows and Illuminations, which is one of a three-part series) has schizophrenia, according to some models. But only during the last cut did Lemelson begin to view Kereta as having “something like schizophrenia.” His outcome, by most measures, is quite good, Lemelson said, because he is married, has children, and works, despite horrific experiences and major stressors in his life and without the kind of western biomedical interventions being discussed. “One of the points we make in the film is that he’s not labeled . . . we show that people, while they consider it odd, don’t consider it insanity, or madness, or mental illness, so he’s protected by the lack of a biomedical label.”

You can also get a second video from the FPR conference where there is a broad discussion of schizophrenia among some great experts, including Steven López, Robert Bilder and Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good.

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2 Responses to Schizophrenia and Cross-Cultural Mental Illness and Treatment

  1. Human types says:

    Schizophrenia – is a disorder of theoretical imagination (theoretical imagination is slightly more complex than standard imagination therefore disorder of it brings stronger negative effects compared to depression which happens to people with standard imagination). Sense of humour in imagination of schizophrenic person is higher than average (most often very high). Bad mood dominates attention. Sexual attractiveness is lower than in the case of virilism. It must be noted that because of strong negative conotations schizophrenia is usually diagnosed only to most difficult cases of schizophrenia, but actually schizophrenic Voltaire and Darwin type persons are quite common in society and schizophrenia itself must not be viewed as something “bad” or stigmatic (most people usually even don’t notice the difference between individual with weak schizophrenia and another individual who has stable psyche). Schizophrenia can be active or passive. Persons with active schizophrenia have irony and sarcasm dominating their imagination and persons with passive schizophrenia have laughter dominating their imagination. Persons with active schizophrenia can be distinguished by more active behaviour and persons with passive schizophrenia can be distinguished by more passive atittude and behaviour.

  2. Our 6 part series “Afflictions: Culture and Mental Illness in Indonesia” is now available on and for institutions through our distributor Afflictions is the first series on mental illness in the developing world. The series, shot over the course of a decade, follows 6 different individuals with “mental illness”, although diagnostic considerations are only a small part of the themes that the series addresses. Those teaching medical or psychological anthropology, transcultural psychiatry, or classes exploring the relation to culture and mental illness should find the series useful. Each episode comes with a study guide that is geared towards an upper division undergraduate/graduate audience.
    Information on the series can be found here.!films/vstc3=slide-2—afflictions-series/vstc2=photo-slide-2—afflictions-series

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