The Americanization of Mental Illness / Cultural Aggression – Globalization

This article exposes one of the “unnoticed costs” of globalization and American cultural aggression: a type of modern Trojan Horse, in the guise of “scientific progress” in the concept of mental illness and the very definition of “what it means to be a human being”.

What I have been maintaining throughout my blog, is that this same “cultural” extermination of “humanistic” ideas about human behavior, has been perpetrated on the American Public – with the same disastrous results! More “so-called” pathologies  / mental illnesses, disorders, defective children, addictions and trauma, and more so-called “need” for “intervention and treatment” and an unprecedented growth in the industries that profit from what is a “crime against humanity”… invented pathologies that destroy societies, communities, families and individuals, and education, by a “takeover” of  existing diverse American and now, world  cultures under one perverse ideology.   

The Americanization of Mental Illness

By ETHAN WATTERS, JAN. 8, 2010

a few excerpts – see original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/magazine/10psyche-t.html

AMERICANS, particularly if they are of a certain leftward-leaning, college-educated type, worry about our country’s blunders into other cultures. In some circles, it is easy to make friends with a rousing rant about the McDonald’s near Tiananmen Square, the Nike factory in Malaysia or the latest blowback from our political or military interventions abroad. For all our self-recrimination, however, we may have yet to face one of the most remarkable effects of American-led globalization. We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness. We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.

In any given era, those who minister to the mentally ill — doctors or shamans or priests — inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate. Because the troubled mind has been influenced by healers of diverse religious and scientific persuasions, the forms of madness from one place and time often look remarkably different from the forms of madness in another.

That is until recently.

For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world. We have done this in the name of science, believing that our approaches reveal the biological basis of psychic suffering and dispel prescientific myths and harmful stigma. There is now good evidence to suggest that in the process of teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them — now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases. These symptom clusters are becoming the lingua franca of human suffering, replacing indigenous forms of mental illness.

What is being missed, Lee and others have suggested, is a deep understanding of how the expectations and beliefs of the sufferer shape their suffering. “Culture shapes the way general psychopathology is going to be translated partially or completely into specific psychopathology,” Lee says. “When there is a cultural atmosphere in which professionals, the media, schools, doctors, psychologists all recognize and endorse and talk about and publicize eating disorders, then people can be triggered to consciously or unconsciously pick eating-disorder pathology as a way to express that conflict.”

The problem becomes especially worrisome in a time of globalization, when symptom repertoires can cross borders with ease. Having been trained in England and the United States, Lee knows better than most the locomotive force behind Western ideas about mental health and illness. Mental-health professionals in the West, and in the United States in particular, create official categories of mental diseases and promote them in a diagnostic manual that has become the worldwide standard. American researchers and institutions run most of the premier scholarly journals and host top conferences in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. Western drug companies dole out large sums for research and spend billions marketing medications for mental illnesses. In addition, Western-trained traumatologists often rush in where war or natural disasters strike to deliver “psychological first aid,” bringing with them their assumptions about how the mind becomes broken by horrible events and how it is best healed. Taken together this is a juggernaut that Lee sees little chance of stopping.

“As Western categories for diseases have gained dominance, micro-cultures that shape the illness experiences of individual patients are being discarded,” Lee says. “The current has become too strong.”

THE IDEA THAT our Western conception of mental health and illness might be shaping the expression of illnesses in other cultures is rarely discussed in the professional literature. Many modern mental-health practitioners and researchers believe that the scientific standing of our drugs, our illness categories and our theories of the mind have put the field beyond the influence of endlessly shifting cultural trends and beliefs. After all, we now have machines that can literally watch the mind at work. We can change the chemistry of the brain in a variety of interesting ways and we can examine DNA sequences for abnormalities. The assumption is that these remarkable scientific advances have allowed modern-day practitioners to avoid the blind spots and cultural biases of their predecessors.

EVEN WHEN THE underlying science is sound and the intentions altruistic, the export of Western biomedical ideas can have frustrating and unexpected consequences. For the last 50-odd years, Western mental-health professionals have been pushing what they call “mental-health literacy” on the rest of the world. Cultures became more “literate” as they adopted Western biomedical conceptions of diseases like depression and schizophrenia. One study published in The International Journal of Mental Health, for instance, portrayed those who endorsed the statement that “mental illness is an illness like any other” as having a “knowledgeable, benevolent, supportive orientation toward the mentally ill.”

CROSS-CULTURAL psychiatrists have pointed out that the mental-health ideas we export to the world are rarely unadulterated scientific facts and never culturally neutral. “Western mental-health discourse introduces core components of Western culture, including a theory of human nature, a definition of personhood, a sense of time and memory and a source of moral authority. None of this is universal,” Derek Summerfield of the Institute of Psychiatry in London observes. He has also written: “The problem is the overall thrust that comes from being at the heart of the one globalizing culture. It is as if one version of human nature is being presented as definitive, and one set of ideas about pain and suffering. . . . There is no one definitive psychology.”

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