Rutgers - Science Summer Abroad 2010
Nine Science Undergraduate Students Around the World

Monday, June 21, 2010

Folk illnesses and markets

This morning we had our seminar on the book Susto: A Folk Illness. This book examines a "fright illness" called susto in Mexico, which is considered a folk illness because it blames spirits for taking advantage of someone when they experience something frightening. A lot of the symptoms actually seem to be similar to those of depression, but because many people will describe it as "susto", doctors practicing modern medicine will refuse to listen to them and consider that they are in fact ill. We also spoke about a Puerto Rican phenomenon known as "ataques de nervios", literally translated to "attacks of nerves", which is also seen as a folk/cultural illness but is actually a serious condition. It is frustrating to see how doctors are trained to look for textbook illnesses and symptoms and disregard those who describe folk beliefs. Susto and ataques de nervios can be very serious mental conditions that are overlooked because doctors refuse to hear people talking about spirits and fright- they fail to simply look at the symptoms and try to diagnose it as best as they can.
I find it frustrating that we tend to take our "Western" modern diagnoses more seriously than those described by “folk” cultures that believe in different factors that create illnesses. In the end, if someone feels ill, they deserve attention and treatment, regardless of whether the doctor and patient believe in the same cause of illness. It is very possible that susto is a purely psychological condition like conversion disorder, which occurs from high levels of anxiety and results in temporary paralysis of limbs. Conversion disorder is the same condition that was once known as hysteria, which was at one point considered a spell witches would put on women to drive them crazy. If doctors hadn't studied this disorder more thoroughly and had just disregarded as a fake condition, those currently with the disorder wouldn't be able to get treatment and their mental state would likely get worse. The same should happen with susto, as those experiencing it feel that it's very real and they suffer from its symptoms.
After seminar, a few of us took the chance to shop around the markets in the centro.

The market is so colorful and lively. It's always exciting to go down and look at the array of crafts, food, and products. It's also pretty guilt-free: everything is affordable and well-made. I wish I had more chances to explore as we did today, so I could see everything there is to see and bring back the most wonderful crafts I can find.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog about "folk" illnesses. It was very interesting.