We don't mean to pick on the DSM, but ... yes, actually we do: Turns out the DSM also largely ignores cultural differences. This is especially harmful when the manual is employed abroad, since culture very much influences the way mental illness manifests.
Nicolas M. Perrault/Wiki Commons
At least Arctic hysteria has had the courtesy to not expand to other cultures ... yet.
After the 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of Sri Lanka, American trauma counselors visited the country to help disaster victims. Chiefly, they wanted to address a problematic psychological behavior that many Sri Lankans were displaying: the uncontrollable urge to help those around them.
The poor, deluded bastards!
These counselors weren't from the Ayn Rand School of Mental Deviancy -- they just thought that the victims might be deferring, rather than dealing with their own trauma. That might have been true in America, but in many Asian countries, helping others before yourself is an integral part of their culture. This was just how their society functioned. But because American culture is more concerned with self-sufficiency, the U.S. trauma counselors unnecessarily diagnosed many of the victims with PTSD.
"You made us 'thank you' cookies?! We need to get you on some very aggressive medication!"
Of course, that was just a case of the American worldview misunderstanding a foreign scenario. That's not nearly as harmful as the U.S. straight up giving another country a disorder. Like the time America inadvertently gave Hong Kong a much worse version of anorexia.
Prior to 1994, anorexia was a rare and very different thing in Hong Kong. Patients didn't experience conventional American symptoms, such as starving or body dysmorphia, but mainly had issues with food, like complaints of bloated stomachs. In short, the Hong Kong version was milder than the American version, and much less common.
It wasn't without its more serious cases, of course: In 1994, a girl with anorexia collapsed and died on a busy street. But when local papers reported what happened, they unwisely used the American DSM to explain anorexia to the public. The message was promptly taken: The number of anorexia cases exploded, and these days, 90 percent of anorexic patients in Hong Kong experience American symptoms.
But then, we also gave them McDonald's, so maybe this is all moot and the heart attacks will get them first.
For more reasons we don't know a lot about our brains, check out 5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Mental Illness and Jokes You Didn't Know Were Indicators Of Mental Illness.
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