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Thread: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

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    Honorary Supporter Dez's Avatar
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    Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    Found this pretty interesting, from Slate. Full Article Here.

    In 1951, Hong Kong psychiatrist Pow-Meng Yap authored an influential paper in the Journal of Mental Sciences on the subject of "peculiar psychiatric disorders"—those that did not fit neatly into the dominant disease-model classification scheme of the time and yet appeared to be prominent, even commonplace, in certain parts of the world. Curiously these same conditions—which include "amok" in Southeast Asia and bouffée délirante in French-speaking countries—were almost unheard of outside particular cultural contexts. The American Psychiatric Association has conceded that certain mysterious mental afflictions are so common, in some places, that they do in fact warrant inclusion as "culture-bound syndromes" in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The working version of this manual, the DSM-IV, specifies 25 such syndromes. Take "Old Hag Syndrome," a type of sleep paralysis in Newfoundland in which one is visited by what appears to be a rather unpleasant old hag sitting on one's chest at night. (If I were a bitter, divorced straight man, I'd probably say something diabolical about my ex-wife here.) Then there's gururumba, or "Wild Man Syndrome," in which New Guinean males become hyperactive, clumsy, kleptomaniacal, and conveniently amnesic, "Brain Fag Syndrome" (more on that in a moment), and "Stendhal Syndrome," a delusional disorder experienced mostly by Italians after gazing upon artistic masterpieces. The DSM-IV defines culture-bound syndromes as "recurrent, locality-specific patterns of aberrant behavior and troubling experience that may or may not be linked to a particular diagnostic category."

    And therein lies the nosological pickle: The symptoms of culture-bound syndromes often overlap with more general, known psychiatric conditions that are universal in nature, such as schizophrenia, body dysmorphia, and social anxiety. What varies across cultures, and is presumably moulded by them, is the unique constellation of symptoms, or "idioms of distress."
    Later on they talk about one called Stendhal Syndrome, a condition most common in Italy, in which someone experiences rapid heartbeat, fainting, and confusion after viewing works of art. I've actually experienced this, in Italy, oddly enough...while in Rome and Florence I kept getting lightheaded in the big cathedrals. These were things I'd been reading about ever since I was a small child, to see them in person was overwhelming for a 16 year old. At one point I had a little old Italian lady smile at me and motion for me to go ahead and sit against one of the pillars. Then she took a deep breath, and motioned for me to do the same, patted my shoulder, and went on her way. I always wondered how she knew...

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    Re: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    Heh, that's deeply entertaining. Admittedly I'm largely amused because "Old Hag Syndrome" sounds like one of the less complimentary descriptions of a succubus that I've heard. Still though, the premise is deeply entertaining.
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    Re: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    Quote Originally Posted by DeseretRose View Post
    Later on they talk about one called Stendhal Syndrome, a condition most common in Italy, in which someone experiences rapid heartbeat, fainting, and confusion after viewing works of art. I've actually experienced this, in Italy, oddly enough...while in Rome and Florence I kept getting lightheaded in the big cathedrals. These were things I'd been reading about ever since I was a small child, to see them in person was overwhelming for a 16 year old. At one point I had a little old Italian lady smile at me and motion for me to go ahead and sit against one of the pillars. Then she took a deep breath, and motioned for me to do the same, patted my shoulder, and went on her way. I always wondered how she knew...
    The first thing it makes me wonder is:

    a) is Stendhal Syndrome only present when people view classical works of art, or do they suffer this from modern art as well?

    and b) if so, have the paints and materials used in those times been thoroughly investigated for fumes, mold spores or radiation?

    In other words, is it some kind of 'sick building'-type problem or is it more neural/emotional, along those lines?
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    Honorary Supporter Dez's Avatar
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    Re: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    My guess would be neural/emotional, perez, simply because some of the paintings that have caused similar feelings for me have been housed in modern or recently refurbished buildings, I'd love to find more research if it's been done, though. Especially since even though it was still emotionally intense, I have not experienced the same surge of feeling combined with a physical response with paintings that were transported elsewhere (Van Gogh in the Getty Museum in CA, for example). I also wonder how many tourists let themselves get dehydrated and exhausted, leaving them more vulnerable.

    That said, I grew up with classical art and music being one of the few things that really "fed" me. Very little at church did that, and it was confusing at the time...here I was getting the feelings I was taught to associate with a full-fledged, just short of seeing angels, true manifestation "The Spirit"--ones that I rarely if ever felt at church-- in Catholic cathedrals, ancient Roman pagan sites, with classical art that included *gasp* nudes... it might be some people are more naturally disposed then others to have such a strong reaction. Combine that with a culture that still intensely reverences art, and I could see this being normal.

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    Re: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    I recently read somewhere that the Chinese sometimes experience mental problems after visiting France due to their rudeness, usually older women. I wish I could find the article I read it from; it said they usually end up going home and having to have counseling.

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    Re: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    I've read of Stendhal Syndrome before - I think in an account of travels in Europe by a well known American author in the early 20th century, whose name I can't recall... he was writing specifically about viewing the Mona Lisa.

    There isn't much to worry about in the way of toxins in the paintings. Yes, some of the pigments are made with heavy metals, like lead and cadmium, but they are bound up in the oils used for the emulsion. If any toxins are coming of - especially after all these years - it can't be much. You can forget about mold also - nobodies letting the Mona Lisa get moldy.

    I think that the idea is that the people are so overcome by the aesthetics of the work that they pass out. That's never actually happened to me (I've never been to Italy, and American museums tend to frown on people passing out in front of masterpieces), but I can understand it.
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    Re: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    Everything's got mold or something growing on it, including us, lol. And they did use naturally radioactive materials like cobalt in pigments, and cinnabar is mercury. There's also lithol red, which can cause allergic reactions when coupled w/lipstick. And while the Mona Lisa might be protected from flying pottery, a lot of other old art is not.

    Woman Attacks Mona Lisa (the article actually mentions Stendhal's Syndrome).

    It's weird for me to think of people being emotionally overwhelmed by something like art, so naturally my first instinct to people getting intense physical or mental reactions to something like that is toxicology.
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    Supporter Hawkfeathers's Avatar
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    Re: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    When I was a little girl, the Mona Lisa was taken on tour and I saw in in NYC. We were walked through in a slow-moving line behind red velvet theater-style ropes, so I wasn't within arm's length, but I very clearly remember seeing that painting, as if the moment were a still photo in my head. Sometimes I guess if we are told about the awesomeness of something for a long time, read about it, etc., the moment when we realize it is actually right before our eyes can be overwhelming. I didn't get fluttery or anything but it made a HUGE impression on me. Same with Michelangelo's "Pieta" which was on display at the NY World's Fair around the same time.
    Look at how young girls act when they first go see their teen idol in concert - same general idea. (Of course, some of those may actually be toxic, but that's another story....)

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    Honorary Supporter Dez's Avatar
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    Re: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    Quote Originally Posted by Hawkfeathers View Post
    When I was a little girl, the Mona Lisa was taken on tour and I saw in in NYC. We were walked through in a slow-moving line behind red velvet theater-style ropes, so I wasn't within arm's length, but I very clearly remember seeing that painting, as if the moment were a still photo in my head. Sometimes I guess if we are told about the awesomeness of something for a long time, read about it, etc., the moment when we realize it is actually right before our eyes can be overwhelming. I didn't get fluttery or anything but it made a HUGE impression on me. Same with Michelangelo's "Pieta" which was on display at the NY World's Fair around the same time.
    Look at how young girls act when they first go see their teen idol in concert - same general idea. (Of course, some of those may actually be toxic, but that's another story....)
    I think that's actually a really apt analogy, Hawkfeathers! Both events would, in the right people, have a very high degree of anticipation ahead of time, and lead to a similar extreme emotional response. All that old footage of girls passing out because they're seeing The Beetles live comes to mind. That wasn't a new phenomena then, either...women passed out back and men broke down weeping in the Victorian era when Paganini performed his violin concertos and caprices.

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    Supporter Hawkfeathers's Avatar
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    Re: Mental Problems You Probably Won't Get in America

    Quote Originally Posted by DeseretRose View Post
    I think that's actually a really apt analogy, Hawkfeathers! Both events would, in the right people, have a very high degree of anticipation ahead of time, and lead to a similar extreme emotional response. All that old footage of girls passing out because they're seeing The Beetles live comes to mind. That wasn't a new phenomena then, either...women passed out back and men broke down weeping in the Victorian era when Paganini performed his violin concertos and caprices.
    My mother was one of the bobby-soxers swooning over Frank Sinatra LOL Anticipation & expectation are under-rated emotions - they really do shape how we perceive reality.

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