From Publishers Weekly
If you thought McDonald's and strip malls were the ugliest of America's cultural exports, think again. Western ideas about mental illness-from anorexia to post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, general anxiety and clinical depression-as well as Western treatments have been sweeping the globe with alarming speed, argues journalist Watters (Urban Tribes), and are doing far more damage than Big Macs and the Gap. In this well-traveled, deeply reported book, Watters takes readers from Hong Kong to Zanzibar, to Tsunami ravaged Sri Lanka, to illustrate how distinctly American psychological disorders have played in far-off locales, and how Western treatments, from experimental, unproven drugs to talk therapy, have clashed with local customs, understandings and religions. While the book emphasizes anthropological findings at the occasional expense of medical context, and at times skitters into a broad indictment of drug companies and Western science, Watters builds a powerful case. He argues convincingly that cultural differences belie any sort of western template for diagnosing and treating mental illness, and that the rapid spread of American culture threatens our very understanding of the human mind: "We should worry about the loss of diversity in the world's differing conceptions of treatments for mental illness in the same way we worry about the loss of biodiversity in nature."
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During the last quarter-century, America’s cultural influence on foreign countries has become all too visible, with a McDonald’s opening on Tiananmen Square and remote African tribes sporting jeans and T-shirts. Perhaps less obvious, but no less worrisome, is the American exportation of mental illness documented in this unsettling expose by the coauthor of the recovered-memory critique, Making Monsters (1996). Watters emphasizes that different cultures have long had their idiosyncratic ways of handling stress that don’t necessarily conform to descriptions provided by the American Psychological Association (APA). Yet, because the APA’s treatment guidelines are increasingly being subscribed to and Western medicine’s recommended drugs prescribed by other countries’ health-care workers, such illnesses as anorexia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are appearing in cultures previously unfamiliar with them. In making his case, Watters provides four carefully dissected case studies, those of anorexia in Hong Kong, PTSD in Sri Lanka, schizophrenia in Zanzibar, and depression in Japan. Ultimately, Watters argues, the loss of cultural diversity consequent upon this peculiar form of Americanization will be keenly felt. --Carl Hays