It is a known fact that every person on this earth is different and reacts to certain situations differently, especially when it comes to our bodies. When thinking about sickness and disease, our first thoughts aren’t about anthropologists, but usually about medical doctors. In chapter fourteen, our textbook discusses the roles of anthropologists and specifically their studies of how culture can affect the reactions to our health.
The chapter begins by discussing the Ebola epidemic that broke out in 2014. The disease was the most devastating in West Africa, killing more than 10,000 people. But, due to a few cases that were not very serious in America, the United States population began to burst into madness. Their reactions were not due to a biomedical problem, their reactions occurred due to their culture. The Ebola epidemic and how the people in America reacted to it is a prime example of how culture has an impact on people’s reactions to diseases.
The first major question addressed in the beginning of the chapter is “How Do Biological and Cultural Factors Shape Our Bodily Experiences,” (360). There are many answers to this important question that were stated in this chapter. But the main points given includes that we need to view ourselves as biocultural beings and that different cultures have their own ways of viewing certain illnesses. Cultures viewing mental illnesses in their own ways is an example of a culture-bound syndrome. Culture-bound syndrome for example is how homosexuality used to be as a mental disorder by psychiatrists. Whereas nowadays, homosexuality is widely accepted across the world.
Another question being considered in the chapter is “What Do We Mean by Health and Illness,” (363). The first step of being able to distinguish health and illness from one another is by viewing them as subjective states. But illness is also impacted by cultural and social expectations. For example, people who are in the lower, working classes are less likely to seek medical attention due to their inability to miss work and paying not as much attention to their health since they consume the cheaper, processed foods that negatively impact their health. This doesn’t mean they don’t care about their health; it means that they simply can’t give as much attention to their illnesses as the wealthier classes do because of their lower social class. The social expectations in the United States are associated with a person’s social class, age, gender, job, and lifestyle. Another key concept to understand is the “sick role.” The sick role is “… the culturally defined agreement between patients and family members to acknowledge that a patient in legitimately sick,” (363). Meaning, cultures perceive sick roles differently than other cultures. For example, in America, if someone stays home from school/work, they are expected to stay in bed and rest with the hope to get better. And the role of their caregiver is to ensure they take their required medication. Whereas Ningerum villagers in New Guinea have completely different views of sick roles. They believe that if the patient is able to display minimal physical strength, then they deal with the illness on their own. But, if the illness progresses and the patient seeks medical care, they usually display the how sick they are with props or by simply not eating.
Another difference between cultures is their methods of healing. The first therapeutic process that medical anthropologists have accepted as healing is the clinical therapeutic process. This process is a healing process that involves the use of medicine, prescribed by a doctor, that should help symptoms subside. For example, when doctors prescribe antibiotics or give vaccinations. The second therapeutic process medical anthropologists accept as healing is symbolic therapeutic process. The symbolic therapeutic healing process involves the use of rituals. An example of one of these therapeutic processes is when a shaman sings and touches a pregnant woman during a difficult pregnancy to reduce pain among the Kuna Indians of Panama. The third therapeutic process discussed is the social support therapeutic process. This process involves the support of a patient’s friends and family. The feeling of support from friends and family is capable of improving a patient’s bodily functions. The fourth therapeutic process accepted for healing is the process of persuasion, most commonly known as the placebo effect. The placebo effect is a non-medicine procedure, where you tell a patient they are receiving a “medical drug” when in reality they are being given a sugar pill or any other fake pill. Some doctors do not like using the placebo effect as a method of treatment because they feel they are lying to the patient. But in some studies, people who received the placebo pill have experienced decreased symptoms.
An important job of medical anthropologists is understanding the different healthcare systems within different cultures. This is important in order to understand how certain diseases are transmitted worldwide and be able to stop the spread of these diseases. Medical pluralism is a key term when it comes to understanding global health problems. Medical pluralism is “the coexistence and interpretation of distinct medical traditions with different cultural roots,” (377). Old and new generations of anthropologists are actively discovering new ways to globally improve healthcare systems and learning how these different healthcare systems work.
In conclusion to chapter fourteen, the main discussion is how culture effects the way people react to illness and diseases. The chapter also discusses the popular questions asked in regards to how culture affects our outlook on illnesses and the important roles that anthropologists take on in order to address these questions. This chapter doesn’t only talk about the cultural factors that affect the way we view our health, but also the social aspects that impact our views of our healthcare. Anthropologists also study the differences in healthcare systems between cultures and try to make improvements in them. Overall, the impact that culture has on the way we react and view certain illnesses plays a bigger part in life than we may think.