Mental health's Marshall Plan

Clinician’s Guide to Cultural Psychiatry. First edition
November 26, 2004

Here are three ways of reading this book. First, you are a psychiatrist who considers that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (APA, DSM-IV) tells you the facts about mental disorder. You have not noticed that “functional mental illnesses” have no clinical signs and are defined singularly by symptoms (what patients say and do in context). You are concerned that your insensitivity to cultural differences may lead to misdiagnosis. This book will help you substantially with this challenge.

Second, you have an anthropological curiosity about international differences in oddity. This book will supply you with a comprehensive description of exotica and curios. These include: contagious family mental disorder across the Far East; Amok and startle-induced dissociative reactions in Malaysia; genital-retraction panic in China and India; Arctic hysteria and Nigerian brain fag syndrome. The reading will leave you unnerved by the substantial cross-cultural differences in behavioural norms and their transgression.

Third, you have an interest in cultural imperialism and are unconvinced by medical positivism. Your TV-exposed children’s sentences have a glut of Californian high-rising terminals. Your government’s foreign policy is flying on autopilot behind the US. A spring in your step emerges on hearing that the French scorn Hollywood movies and vandalise a McDonald’s outlet.

You pick up this book and your world view is confirmed when you notice that DSM-IV is the psychiatric contribution to US world domination. Rich, powerful and the only touchstone of reality, the APA is letting us know who is the boss, and Wen-Shing Tseng is its ambassador.

David Pilgrim is professor of mental health, Liverpool University.

Clinician’s Guide to Cultural Psychiatry. First edition

Author - Wen-Shing Tseng
Publisher - Academic Press
Pages - 493
Price - £38.95
ISBN - 0 12 701633 3

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