It is not one simple syndrome. Instead, culture bound syndrome is any syndrome, mental state, or idea or feeling that is tied to folklore or to the beliefs of the culture from which the syndrome originated.
These syndromes often have cultural names that do not make sense to those that are not a part of the culture in question. There are a few different examples like arctic hysteria, amok, windigo, and more. These are all syndromes that have origins in the cultural stories and folklore of the culture in question. They are often those mental illnesses that have no real cure and that are deeply rooted in the belief system of the people of a culture.
There are no real solid definitions that can explain culture bound syndrome. However, you can certainly understand that they are syndromes and mental illnesses that are based fully in the culture of the person that is being affected. Think of them as sicknesses that are only present in those that believe in them. Each culture has their own different set of syndromes that are rooted in their history. One good example is the vampire, this was not a part of mainstream culture until it made its way out of Eastern Europe to become a worldwide phenomenon as it is today.
Culturally Bound Syndromes
There are tons of syndromes that are bound to one culture or another. Knowing a bit about them can really help you understand the culture from which they come. One great example is the amok syndrome. This is common in Malaysia and is characterized by a very brooding and dark mood followed by violent outbursts and homicidal behavior. In some cases, those that do become homicidal tend to blame it on this syndrome. This is very dangerous, because it is often a way for someone to claim that they have no real blame for what they have done.
Another culture bound syndrome that is fairly common is arctic hysteria. This is a feeling of extreme excitement followed by seizures and coma. This is fairly common in Alaska and especially among natives, though it is not all that common around the rest of the US.
Yet another syndrome that you may have to think about is brain fog. This is a west African syndrome that is characterized by difficulty thinking and concentrating. In the US, it may be referred to as forgetfulness.
A far more morbid syndrome is windigo. This is common in native American cultures and is the intense fear of becoming a cannibal. This happens when a person eats the flesh of another and then goes crazy and becomes gaunt, lifeless, and begins to seek others to eat all the time.
Culture Bound Theory
There are a few different theories as to why these syndromes have become so deeply ingrained in a culture. One theory is that they are often used as teaching tools for the youth of that culture. In primitive cultures, these syndromes are used as moral lessons to make others do what they are told. Much like how children in Germany are told not to go into the woods because of witches, and those that read Grimm’s fairy tales are warned against other dangers, these syndromes are used to accomplish a few different things.
For starters, they are used to help teach children what they should and should not do. In many of these culture bound syndromes, there is far more than just symptoms that you should look out for. With many of these syndromes there are also morals that are meant to teach those that see them. While these syndromes may have some common sense basis, most of them are based in some way or another on the values and beliefs of the culture to which they belong.
A good example is arctic hysteria. Arctic hysteria is a means of warning those that are belong to its specific culture from wandering off or being alone too much. It is believed that this syndrome is based in the belief that those that are in the arctic should stay with family, lest evil spirits take over. There are plenty of theories that make it possible to believe that those that are affected have gone against the values of the people that they belong to. There is no real way to keep people from becoming ill, but many believe that by being a good person and by following certain rules, they are far less likely to become bound by these syndromes.
Examples of Culture Bound Syndromes
One example of a culture bound syndrome that is really interesting is gururumba. This syndrome is native to New Guinea and is called the wild man disease. Typically, this wild man starts to rob homes, taking things that he perceives as valuable but that are not really valuable at all. He then will go to the forest for a few days and return without the things that he stole and with a case of amnesia about what happened.
Another disorder you may hear of is native to India and is called saora disorder. This is a disorder in which the young men and women that are affected may have trouble speaking, or show strange behavior patterns such as the inability to control emotions. Those that are affected are also likely to claim that they are being bitten by ants. The people that are affected are often under tons of pressure and therefore they are likely being affected because of the stress.
Berserkers is another disorder you may want to read about. This is a state of extreme fury and rage that is normally attributed to the norse. These men would go on a frenzied run as a result of the heat of battle. They were very loud, driven by rage and heated emotion, and uncontrollable. The aftermath was a feeble mind for a few days after the episode passed.
Ghost sickness is a Native American sickness that is associated with the death of a loved one. This only occurs when the individual is around someone that dies or is dying. The ghost is said to attach itself to the individual and may cause suffocation in the victim. This is a fairly uncommon disorder these days but is still somewhat prevalent in Native American cultures. Ghost sickness is somewhat like old hag syndrome and other syndromes that were common in times when ghosts were common and widely accepted as part of normal society.
Grisi Siknis is the last disorder that we are going to discuss here. This happens when the man in a relationship begins to experience some of the symptoms and behaviors of his pregnant partner near the time of labor. These men may gain weight, have cravings, have false labor pains, and have nausea and other issues that are associated with the symptoms that are common in pregnancy. This is a fairly uncommon disorder now but it has happened in the past.
There are plenty of culture bound diseases, and knowing about them is just one way that scientists and others can learn about the culture that they are trying to learn about. There are tons of cultural bound diseases and you can find out about them if you just take the time to read and to find out more about them.