Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 35–55

Tension Among Women in North India: An Idiom of Distress and a Cultural Syndrome

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11013-016-9516-5

Cite this article as:
Weaver, L.J. Cult Med Psychiatry (2017) 41: 35. doi:10.1007/s11013-016-9516-5


The existing literature on Indian ethnopsychology has long asserted that somatization is a key aspect of experiences of distress. The study of idioms of distress arose out of work done in India (Nichter in Cult Med Psychiatry 5(4):379–408, 1981), but ironically, little subsequent work has systematically explored idioms of distress in this part of the world. This ethnographic study focused on the term tension (tenśan) and its relation to a cultural syndrome among women in urban North India. This syndrome appears to involve rapid-onset anger, irritation, rumination, and sleeplessness as key symptoms. It is often linked to specific circumstances such as domestic conflict and is associated with the stresses of modern urban life. People who report more symptoms of tension had consistently higher scores on the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist-25 for depression and anxiety. In this cultural context where psychiatric care is highly stigmatized, the language of tension can aid providers of mental healthcare (many of whom, in India, are not psychiatrists or psychologists) to identify and communicate effectively with potential patients whose mental healthcare needs might otherwise go unaddressed.


Idioms of distress Ethnopsychology India Mental health 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
National Science Foundation
  • 00004056
Fulbright Hays Foundation
  • P022A0100030

    Copyright information

    © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

    Authors and Affiliations

    1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

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