Someday the movement to reconsider mental illness will have its day. Increasing numbers of scholars and activists are gaining ground in the reeducation of both the scientific and social communities regarding Western assumptions held as conventional wisdom. Ethan Watters' new tome Crazy Like Us tackles an alarming aspect of the Western approach, demonstrating that a particularly American brand of defining, explaining, diagnosing, and treating mental states is being exported to other societies without taking into account fundamentally different cultural—and therefore mental—environments.
Watters lays four major examples of American interference at our feet: the media-aided rise of anorexia in Hong Kong; the quasi-humanitarian insistence on treating post-tsunami Sri Lankans for post-traumatic stress disorder; the disruptive introduction of biomedical theories on individuals experiencing schizophrenia in Zanzibar; and the pharmaceutically motivated marketing of depression in Japan. Armed with ample studies, Watters makes a tidy case for the idea that disorders' causes, expressions, and favorable resolutions are not universal. It's hard not to feel ashamed of our nation's culpability in the instances he describes.
Professionals, patients, and neighbors should prepare themselves for a sea change over the next century in the field of mental health. As an entry point to this fascinating evolution, Watters' argument is a compelling shot across the bow.