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8 - Culture and psychopathology: general view

from Part II - Culture and mental health

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 August 2009

Wen-Shing Tseng
Department of Psychiatry University of Hawaii School of Medicine 1356 Lusitana Street 4th Floor Honolulu HI 96813-2421 USA
Dinesh Bhugra
Institute of Psychiatry, London
Kamaldeep Bhui
Barts & The London, Queen Mary School of Medicine and Dentistry
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Cultures have a major role to play in the upbringing of an individual and these are not knowingly imbibed. An individual, even before birth, is influenced by cultural factors, e.g. the colours expected in the nursery or of the clothes; the role of wearing female-gender clothes by male children. The patterns of child-rearing also influence the ways in which culture is absorbed. From playmates, peers, school, university and other organizations, individuals continue to imbibe culture, its expectations of the individual and its norms. The relationship between culture and psychopathology is multi-layered and multi-faceted. Cultures sanction idioms of distress, define normality and deviance, create illnesses and dictate pathways into care.

Tseng, in his chapter, provides an overview of the relationship between culture and psychopathology. Bringing together social factors which cause social disorganization and distress, Tseng argues that certain social conditions ‘aetiologically’ may cause mental disorders. They only facilitate or make certain groups of people more vulnerable to psychopathology. Thus, they may increase a person's susceptibility or vulnerability, but not as aetiology. He further illustrates that culture can have pathogenic (i.e. culture is a direct causative factor in forming psychopathology) or pathoselective (i.e. culture makes most people select culturally influenced selection patterns which result in the manifestation of some psychopathologies). It may be pathoplastic (modelling of manifestations of psychopathology), pathoelaborating (behaviour patterns get exaggerated to the extreme), pathofacilitative (some conditions are more common in some cultures) or pathoreactive (influence people's reactions to distress). Tseng suggests that culture has a broader, more direct effect on minor as opposed to major psychiatric disorders on all these levels.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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