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.
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.