Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Immigrant Health

pp 49-64


Culture-Specific Diagnoses

  • Delaney SmithAffiliated withTimothy B Moritz Forensic Unit, Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare
  • , Tara MayesAffiliated withTwin Valley Behavioral Healthcare
  • , Riley SmithAffiliated withHahnemann University Hospital

Introduction and History

Culture-specific diagnoses, also referred to as culture-bound syndromes, ethnic psychoses, and atypical culture-bound reactive syndromes, have been studied since the early eighteenth century. Culture-specific diagnoses encompass a diverse group of illnesses whose syndrome constellations are unique to certain cultural groups. While general medical conditions which localize to certain geographic regions or genetic groups have been historically included with the culture-specific diagnoses, the term is now primarily used to refer to mental health conditions. Culture-specific diagnoses are distinct from idioms of distress. Idioms of distress are a culturally unique presentation of coping with and expressing negative experiences and emotions (Kirmayer & Young, 1998). Idioms of distress are most commonly manifested as somatization with the body system and form of physical manifestation of the emotional distress varying by culture. Knowledge of b ...

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