Saturday, February 19, 2011

Americanizing (and Polarizing) Mental Illness

     It can be argued that an overwhelmingly large portion of what we refer to as “globalization” is rooted in westernization and—subsequently—Americanization.

     Ethan Watters’ New York Times article points out the lack of attention Americans pay to the socio-cultural factors embedded in the makeup of mental illness before expediting our scientific studies and methodologies abroad.

     Is it really possible to constrain the inner workings of our brain to mere chemistry and to keep the scientific vernacular of our cultures absent from studies of medical science? Is it even fair?

     Watters' article continuously echoes the answer: No. In Shi’i Lebanon, women cope with trauma by relating their experiences to and drawing on the strength of the female Muslim figurehead, Zayneb.  In doing so, these women are able to come to terms with these traumas knowing that Zayneb conquered worse. Watters cites McGruder’s study of kinship in Zanzibar as a case for the positive effect of having a set role within a family or kinship group that maintains itself even when mental illness is present.

     If the answer to the “should/can we ignore culture in regards to science” question is a resounding "No," it’s time for America to depolarize our academic fields. Nothing defies a lab test like human nature.

-Kate Midden

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