Culture can perpetuate mental illness: expert

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: Culture has the ability to precipitate and perpetuate mental illness and, in certain instances, increase the vulnerability, Dinesh Bhugra, Dean, Royal College of Psychiatrists, United Kingdom, has said.

Besides defining normalcy, deviance and disease, culture dictated how a patient seeks treatment. It also held within itself explanations for mental disorders, attributing them at times to supernatural reasons.

Delivering the 19th K. Gopalakrishna Endowment lecture on Mental Health and Society-A Perspective Across Cultures, Prof. Bhugra began by defining culture and its influence on cognitive and social development through the culturally determined parenting practices.

He also explained the differences in the terms, disease, illness and sickness, from the perspective of doctors, patients and the society at large. While `disease', a pathological entity, a biomedical formulation with an identifiable clinical picture, was how doctors looked at it, patients perceived it as illness, personal, social, cultural, and hence, subjective phenomenon. Sickness was a society's definition.

During his 45-minute presentation, the culture specialist also paid attention to the phenomenon of depression. Quoting international agencies' predictions that depression would be the largest disease in the world by 2020, he said adequate attention must be paid to this condition, which most people tried to rationalise as part of the ups and downs of life.

However, depression could lead to suicides, and the rates were higher for women than men.

E.S. Krishnamoorthy, Vice-Chairman, K. Gopalakrishna Department of Neurology, Institute of Neurological Sciences, Voluntary Health Services, Taramani, said the lecture was being held as part of the second International Neuropsychiatry Association (INA) Symposium.

The INA is a body comprising professionals interested in the brain-mind interface. This year's theme was Neuropsychiatry and Transcultural Neuroscience.

Sarada Menon, senior consultant psychiatrist, released a copy of Neurolinks, the official journal of the Neurosciences India Group.

Culture would have to be understood to understand human behaviour.