What are the possible negative outcomes of the continued spread of the DSM definitions of mental illness across the globe to other cultures?
Due to the ever-evolving technology, particularly related to the Internet and cell phones, our world is becoming better and better connected across oceans, continents, and cultures. There are many benefits to this increased connectedness. However, there are some negative effects, as well. One example is the effect that Western society is having on Far Eastern societies’ expressions of certain forms of mental illnesses.
In the article “The Americanization of Mental Illness” (Watters, 2010), the author discusses how the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder, were different in China than in the Western countries. A psychiatrist and researcher, Dr. Sing Lee, was studying this Chinese version of the eating disorder, which did not have much in common with the Western version. The Chinese with anorexia did not seem to diet or fear becoming fat, as most in the West do. Instead, they seemed to complain mainly of bloated stomachs. In 1994, in the midst of his research, a teenage girl in Hong Kong died after fainting on a city street. The death was in the news, and reporters wrote about the death by citing the DSM from the United States. Their widespread publication of those symptoms in light of this girl’s death seems to have begun a change in how the illness is now expressed in China. Now, more individuals are developing Western-style symptoms consistent with the DSM list of criteria. It seems the Western definition has traveled to China and has begun to transform how that illness is expressed there.
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