Cultural syndromes: what they are, what symptoms they present and 7 examples

Although most mental or psychopathological disorders occur with almost the same fire in any part of the world, some mental disorders only occur in a particular society or culture. These are the so-called cultural syndromes.

Also known as cultural mental disorders, they are characterized by being psychopathological images. they occur specifically in members of a cultureBut they can become so common in some places that where they appear they are considered to be the most common alterations.

    What are cultural syndromes?

    Cultural syndromes are mental or psychosomatic disorders that affect only a particular community, society or culture. These syndromes are recorded as diseases although sometimes no organic pathology occurs in patients.

    Although there may be similarities with other pathologies or experiences, syndromes or cultural disorders are not observed in other societies or external cultural nuclei where it has been discovered and localized.

    Likewise, the very term “cultural syndrome” has been debated a lot within the scientific community, and much of it is censored and hesitant to use it, as they are categorized by the culture itself.

    Cultural syndromes put the differences between cultures at the center of attention. Differences that are needed especially in different aspects of spiritual, mental or physical perceptions and experiences. For example, a behavior or behavior which in another culture is experienced as abnormal or pathological in Western culture can be perfectly integrated into what is considered “normal”.

    Currently, the most important diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, refers to cultural syndromes under the general category of “cultural concepts of stress”.

      How to identify a cultural syndrome?

      There are certain peculiarities of cultural syndromes which allow them to be differentiated. These characteristics are:

      • The syndrome is defined and determined as a condition of the culture itself.
      • This same culture is aware of the symptoms and knows the treatment.
      • It is a syndrome unknown in other cultures.
      • No organic origin has been found for this syndrome.

      In the symptomatology associated with these syndromes, both can be found somatic symptoms, such as pain; or symptoms related to behavioral problems. Also, although some of these syndromes share a basic symptomatology, different culturally related items can still be found that can distinguish them.

      Finally, we must keep in mind that often the boundaries of what is considered a culture are blurred, even if it is generally possible to delimit its scope territorially among human populations.

      Examples of cultural syndromes

      Although there is a long list of cultural syndromes, all classified according to the region of the world in which they are found, this article describes a number of cultural syndromes which are distinguished by their particular or striking character.

      1. Hwa-byung syndrome (Korea)

      The Hwa-byung, also known as Hwa-Byeong, Is a typical Korean somatization disorder. This mental disorder appears in people who are unable to face or control their anger in situations that they perceive to be unfair.

      The term is can be translated as a compound word consisting of “fire” or “anger” and “disease”. Likewise, if the geographical area is more restricted, in South Korea is better known as “depression or anger disease”.

      The epidemiology of this disorder has an incidence of 35% in the working population.

      2. Sleeping Blood (Cape Verde, Africa)

      This alteration is culturally linked to the islanders who inhabit Cape Verde, Africa. this disorder understands suffering from a wide range of neurological diseases, Which include blindness, seizures, numbness, pain, paralysis, stroke and tremors. You may also be responsible for an acute myocardial infarction, miscarriage, and infection.

      The original term belongs to the Portuguese language and is literally translated as “sleeping blood”.

      3. Disease of the spirits (Indo-America)

      This disorder typical of Native American tribes is characterized by the person exhibiting a variety of somatic and psychological symptoms associated with excessive symptoms, and sometimes, obsessive preoccupation with death-related issues.

      In this phenomenon, the importance of suggestion and psychological rumination is intuitioned, phenomena which are returned and have to do with an alteration in the management of attentional focus and the management of anxiety which, in addition, is seen influenced by the obsessed with the behavior of others.

      4. Koro (China and Malaysia)

      Koro’s disease is a disorder that mainly affects men, who experience a state of panic, with anxious tendencies, during which he he perceives that his penis is shrinking in size or he recoils, as if he could disappear.

      Although in a male syndrome, there have been cases in women, who have experienced this narrowing of their breasts and genitals.

      Since anxiety states can affect the size and girth of the penis, this panic is returned, leading to behaviors such as holding or fixing the penis with some kind of instrument.

      Most cases of Koro occur in men, during adolescence and youth, Who suffer from any sexual disorder, paranoid or depressive.

      5. Fear or fear syndrome (Latin America)

      A rather unusual or singular syndrome typical of Latin American culture is fear. in the fearful or startled person experiences a number of symptoms associates that turn the simple act of scaring someone into an illness.

      A wide variety of symptoms associated with fear syndrome have been described, some of which are:

      • Loss of appetite
      • muscular weakness
      • Lack of energy
      • pallor
      • Vomiting and diarrhea
      • fever
      • commotion
      • depression
      • anxiety
      • fever

      There have been cases of people suffering from this disease to the point of causing their death.

      6. Arctic hysteria or Piblokto (populations of the North Pole)

      This type of hysteria has been recorded in populations originating from the North Pole, such as Eskimos from Siberia, Canada, Greenland or Alaska.

      This type of disorder can be divided into two different syndromes:

      1. A syndrome unique to the Siberian region, the main feature is that the person suffers from a strong imitation mania.
      2. A state in which the person suffers from a frantic dissociation.

      In either variety, the person returns to their normal state after the seizure is over.

      7. Morgellons Syndrome (Western Society)

      In Morgellons syndrome, the person is overwhelmed by an illusion that it is believed to be infected with infectious elements or capable of transmitting disease, Such as insects and pests.

      People suffering from this disorder manifest a series of skin lesions due to the obsession with scratching and biting the skin, because according to the patient, it feels a constant tingling.

      Bibliographical references:

      • American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Association.
      • Bures, F. (2016). The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the meaning of the strangest syndromes in the world. New York: Melville House.
      • Guarnaccia, PJ and Rogler, LH (1999) Research on culture-related syndromes: new directions. American Journal of Psychiatry 156: pages 1322-1327
      • Jilek WG (2001) Psychiatric Disorders: Culture Specific. International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Elsevier Science Ltd.

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