Friday, September 27, 2013


Like many Americans, I am deeply troubled by the violence of our culture, which only seems to increase and too often manifests itself in mass killings by people with mental health issues. American psychological anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann of Stanford University is careful to point out that the vast majority of schizophrenics never commit a violent act, but that they are significantly more likely to do so than the broader population, especially when they have auditory hallucinations. To them, the voices are real and spoken by an external, commanding authority. Luhrmann has been working with colleagues at the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai, India, to compare the voice-hearing experiences of Indians and Americans and has found that they are culturally specific. While schizophrenics in the U.S. hear voices that instruct them to do bodily harm to themselves or others, the patients in Chennai were ordered to do domestic chores like cooking and cleaning. While the schizophrenics of India sometimes describe the voices speaking in vulgar or sexual terms, one of the most disgusting commands was to drink out of the toilet. The observation that the hallucinations are shaped by local culture lends support to the recent movement that the voices can be altered through therapy to make them less frequent, less intense, and less disturbing. Luhrmann observes, "We Americans live in a society in which, when people feel threatened, they think about guns. The same cultural patterns that make it difficult to get gun violence under control may also be responsible for making these terrible auditory commands that much harsher."

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