Mental illnesses are not spread evenly around the globe and across history. In a talk based on his recent book, Watters will review work by cross-cultural psychiatrists that has shown that mental illnesses appear in different cultures and periods in history in endlessly complex and unique forms. Because the troubled mind has been perceived in terms of diverse religious, scientific, and social beliefs of discrete cultures, madness in one place and time often looks remarkably different from madness in another. But with increasing globalization, things are changing quickly. The remarkable diversity once seen among different cultures’ conceptions of madness is disappearing. Mental illnesses identified and popularized in the United States are spreading across cultural boundaries with the speed of contagious diseases. Indigenous forms of mental illness and healing are being replaced by disease categories and treatments made in the USA. To lay bare these international trends, Watters will explore four case studies: the rise of anorexia in Hong Kong in the 1990s; the spread of post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma therapy to Sri Lanka after the Boxing Day tsunami; the changing notions of schizophrenia in Zanabar; and the selling of depression to Japan after that market was open to serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Review Ethan Watter’s biographical statement.