Culture and situation specific symptoms

Having said in a recent post that Africans are not overexposed to the diseased brain model of mental illness, I picked up my nightly reading, Morality for Beautiful Girls, by Scottish writer and medical doctor Alexander McCall Smith. The “mental illness is a disease like any other” viewpoint has invaded the fictional world of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana lady detective. When J.L.B. Matekoni, her garage mechanic fiancĂ© and owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, becomes listless and secretive, she turns to Dr. Moffatt for advice. “Depression is a disease like any other,” he counsels from the perspective of Western medecine. Dr. Moffatt says he should go on medication. The fact that the forty-five year old Mr. Matekoni has just become engaged and adopted two orphans seems not to be considered as a possible reason for his depression.

Culture and context do make a difference in how your symptoms are expressed. I remember an African colleague at work got stuck in a low-rise elevator for about ten minutes. Have you ever seen someone who was catatonic? My colleague was when they took her out of the elevator. She was rigid, her eyes wide open and staring like she had just seen seen the spirit of a dead ancestor. She was whisked away to the hospital in an ambulance. It is observed that catatonic schizophrenia is more prevalent in African countries than elsewhere. Having seen what happened to my colleague with elevator trauma, I don’t need any convincing that a relatively rare form of schizophrenia in western countries is more common in Africa.

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