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Andrea G.'s picture

Culture and disease

I think that at this point in the discussion, I'm going to take a cue from Amelia and also address some of the issues we talked about in class that weren't related to the placebo effect.  One of the things that surprised me most about our discussion last week was my reaction to hypothetical questions about how we treat people with certain disorders.  Something about the idea of insurance companies covering multiple plastic surgeries for a person with Body Dysmorphic Disorder bothers me, while sex reassignment surgery is totally acceptable to me.  I had never considered before just how similar these situations are.  Both of these situations could be explained as cases that merit extensive psychotherapy in order to change "defective" thoughts.  They could just as easily be considered situations in which people have the right to change their physical appearance to match their mental state.  There doesn't seem to be any logic to thinking that BDD needs to be fixed "from the inside" while transgendered individuals should be allowed to get fixed in their outward appearance.  It's an interesting social construction that I'm certainly going to continue thinking about.

I've also always been interested in the idea of culture-bound syndromes, which we brought up briefly in class last week.  I'm fascinated by the idea that while people in various cultures seem to experience similar "symptoms", the label that comes along with having an actual disease makes such a big difference.  My class presentation on PMS last year that we seem to bring up a lot is a great example.  If you ask them without ever mentioning the possibility of a related disorder, women across cultures do seem to have similar experiences around the time of menstruation, but if there is no concept of PMS in their culture, they don't perceive this group of experiences as problematic.  Giving a set of previously unrelated experiences a common label seems to allow us to recognize each symptom and self-diagnose much more readily.  It's interesting to think about what diseases, other than PMS and depression, which we've mentioned, have been spread from our culture across the world due to globalization.


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