Great article by Ethan Watters in the New York Times last Friday, called The Americanization of Mental Illness, which deals with questions at the heart of cross-cultural philosophy. (Watters also has a book on the subject coming out, and a blog.) The article notes how “mental illness” remains a category far more culture-bound than psychological studies are typically willing to admit. The DSM, American psychologists’ scripture, has a seven-page appendix (pp. 897-903 in the DSM-IV-TR edition) for “culture-bound disorders,” such as amok (a condition in Malaysia where men get violently aggressive and then have amnesia) or pibloktoq (an Inuit condition involving a short burst of extreme excitement followed by seizures and coma). It’s telling that few of the disorders in this section are culture-bound to the United States; and those which are, are quite telling: “ghost sickness” is “frequently observed among members of many American Indian tribes”; locura, nervios and susto are found among Latinos; sangue dormido is found among Cape Verde Islanders and their immigrants to the US; “rootwork” and “spell” are “seen among African Americans and European Americans from the southern United States.” That is, the only “culture-bound disorders” to be found among white Americans are found among those weird Southern hillbillies who live beside black people. Normal white Americans, the kind who live in Cambridge, MA or in Manhattan, don’t get “culture-bound disorders.” Their disorders are just part of the universal human condition.