An epidemic of collective conversion and dissociation disorder in an indigenous group of Colombia: its relation to cultural change.

Abstract

We describe a collective episode of psychogenic illness in an indigenous group (Embera) of Colombia, geographically isolated from its native homeland and surrounded by non-indigenous settlers. The condition, which affected three young adult men and six adolescent women, was attributed by them to a spell (maleficio). It was designated as ataques de locura (madness attacks) according to their traditional medical system; and as a conversive disorder with dissociative features by psychiatrists. Different therapeutic approaches, including antipsychotic medication, religious healers and traditional herbal remedies were unsuccessful. Contact with shamans of the same ethnic origin, on the other hand, proved to be an effective way of dealing with the symptoms. We interpret the situation as an expression of psychosocial stress secondary to cultural change. This medical problem bears close resemblance to other specific culture-bound syndromes such as ataques de nervios or possession syndromes and gives clues to ways of dealing with psychogenic expressions of cultural stress.

Cite this paper

@article{Pieros1998AnEO, title={An epidemic of collective conversion and dissociation disorder in an indigenous group of Colombia: its relation to cultural change.}, author={M Pi{\~n}eros and D Rosselli and C Calderon}, journal={Social science & medicine}, year={1998}, volume={46 11}, pages={1425-8} }