Cultural perceptions of mental health affect treatment
By Zeynep Memecan
The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which provides the diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, does not recognize many culturally specific conditions. One example is ataques de nervios, a disorder that affects mostly people of Dominican and Puerto Rican origin and closely resembles panic attacks, with some distinctive features. Since the disorder is not included in the current DSM, incorrect diagnoses are common and effective treatment methods for patients suffering from ataques have been lacking. Whether the new edition of the manual, DSM-V, which will come out in 2012, is going to be more inclusive of culture-bound syndromes is being debated.
But currently, Derald Wing Sue, a Teachers College professor of counseling and clinical psychology who is also co-founder and the first president of the Asian American Psychological Association, has worked on one facet of the issue. Sue is known best for his work on racial micro-aggressions—unintended slights or social cues by members of a dominant group that make members of minority groups uncomfortable.
“Our psychological studies indicate that it is racial micro-aggressions that have the most devastating impact on people of color, even more terrible than overt acts of conscious racism or hate crimes,” Sue said. “Their life is most affected by ordinary, well-intentioned decent individuals who are unaware that they are giving micro-aggressions.”
The article “Cultural perceptions of mental health affect treatment” was published in “The Columbia Spectator” on April 30th, 2009.