The Subjectivity and Art of Diagnosis: Susto

Susto, a culture-bound syndrome discussed by Wen-Shing (2006), resonates with me in several ways. The work Susto has been described by Wen-Shing (2006) to originate from Spain and it means fright. Susto, as described in the article is based on the belief that each and every human is in possession of a soul. The article goes further to explain that in certain experiences, which are not always good, the soul of the individual in question might depart from the body. People who hold on to this belief, believe that to cure the syndrome, one can only perform rituals that will help in returning the spirit. A cross-culture study involving 30 participants of both Spanish and Hispanic Americans was done. The participants were given symptoms and to complete the response, they had to choose the cause of the symptoms. Although the study did not mention Susto, 50% of the participants choose it as compared to 9% who did not. The study showed that huge populations believe in this culture-bound syndrome, which according to Weller et al. (2008), they attribute it to mental illness and sometimes depression.

When interrogating this week’s readings, it became apparent that a belief in higher powers among human beings is rife and not about to go away soon. What caught my attention was relating this kind of cultural belief and the advancements we have in technology and scientific knowledge. Even with technology or scientific knowledge, people will still find it easy to believe in superficial concepts that are hard and sometimes ridiculous to think about, and highly likely to resist science and technology.


Tseng, W. S. (2006). From peculiar psychiatric disorders through culture-bound syndromes to culture-related specific syndromes. Transcultural Psychiatry, 43(4), 554-576.

Weller, S. C., Baer, R. D., de Alba Garcia, J. G., & Rocha, A. L. S. (2008). Susto and nervios: Expressions for stress and depression. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 32(3), 406-420.

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