Sunday, 10 March 2013

Cultural differences

Ethan Watters' excellent book 'Crazy Like Us - The Globalization of the American Psyche' suggests that the US (and probably the developed world in general) is actually creating mental illness in other countries by defining conditions to which people in those cultures then succumb. It's almost, he says, as if the definitions come first, then patients present with them.

But the West's influence might not have spread everywhere yet. I recently chatted over lunch to a 26-year-old Vietnamese computer science PhD student. As we discussed our respective work, I described Moodscope only to see that he just didn't understand the idea of depression, and wasn't even familiar with the concept of someone feeling suicidal.

He was a bright guy, so you can only conclude that it's a cultural thing. Perhaps depression is yet to hit Vietnam? Completely anecdotally, we'd both lost our internet access earlier on. I assumed I'd done something wrong, whereas he was certain that the problem was caused by someone else, and while it's dangerous to make assumptions from a sample size so small, I know there's evidence to suggest that whereas in the West we blame ourselves when things go wrong (unhealthy) in the East there's a tendency to externalise the issue (healthier). Interesting, isn't it?