Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 35–55 | Cite as

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

  • Lesley Jo WeaverEmail author
Original Paper


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 



This study was funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant Number 00004056), the Fulbright Hays Foundation (Grant Number P022A0100030), and a summer pilot research grant from the Lemelson/SPA Fund.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Lesley Jo Weaver declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

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