I Wanna be Literated #225

I Wanna be Literated #225

Sunday, 05 July 2020

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche
by Ethan Watters

Don’t let the cover fool you, Crazy Like Us id a lot more focused than the cover let’s on, with arrows exporting all the different disorders from the USA. Also, let’s note how a title like this would be checked if it was proposed today.

Anyway, back to the book.

Crazy Like Us really needs to be read by Americans, because it tries to communicate all along what foreigners have known, which is that Americans often understand disorders and stress from their cultural perspective and that misses the point. Sure, everyone’s trying to be like Americans and adhere to western standards of beauty, but just because these disorders manifest in other cultures, doesn’t mean they have the same causes.

I would have liked this book to be twice its size and do a more broad and thorough analysis, but Crazy Like Us looks at Anorexia in Hong Kong, PTSD in Sri Lanka, Schizophrenia in Zanzibar, and Depression in Japan. A good place to start. What Ethan Watters tracks is the prevalence of treating these disorders from a western perspective, particularly an American one. In doing so, we misunderstand the trigger of these disorders and how to treat people. In the case of anorexia in Hong Kong, it’s not really about a desire to be “beautiful and skinny” but a side effect of living an unfulfilled life or dealing with stress. It’s when the patients learn of this concept of anorexia that they adopt it to cope with the distress in their life, whether it’s loneliness or feeling like they have unmet potential.

Equally interesting is the occurrence of Schizophrenia in Zanzibar. While the western approach is to focus on the person and micromanage their life and convince them they need help, the locals just let the patient go on of their own volition, not treating them any differently, and “playing down” their episodes by saying something like “they’re having a bad day.” This approach helps the patient feel a lot less like an outcast and still a part of their social group.

Each chapter in Crazy Like Us is enlightening and teaches us something about culture and disease and how context is important when diagnosing or treating a problem. Like I said, I wish this book was longer and dug into the subjects a little more, because it feels a little light in its current form. But, it’s still quite enjoyable and has a lot to teach the reader.  

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