Culture in Psychology
Chapter 10: Culture and emotions: depression among Pakistanis by Rabia Malik
Malik begins her writing with a discussion of emotions and how they are defined generally, as well as in different cultures (Malik 147-159). Malik states “When we think of emotions we think of them in the first instance as powerful personal experiences or feelings which arise within the body” (Malik 147). Throughout the chapter, Malik compares concepts of emotional states being internal and external (Malik 147-159. Malik also states, “The social constructionist perspective allows too for the possibility that emotions may work differently in different cultures” (Malik 147). Following this perspective, it is asserted that Westerners have a far more individualistic concept of emotions, including how they play out within the individual and the effect they have on the individual (Malik 149-150, 154). This individualized concept of self is also referred to as “’egocentric’ [and] ‘indexical’” (Malik 149). Conversely, “The ‘sociocentric’ ‘referential’ self is usually associated with non-western cultures” (Malik 149). “Laungani (1992) and Kakar (1982) argue that South Asian society cannot be seen in terms other than familial and communal” (Malik 154). Because the South Asian culture has such a different view on society, compared to the Western view of society, this also leads to a different view on distress/depression and ideas on how to treat these negative feelings.
Westerners “theorise emotions as [solely] internal essences” (Malik 147). Contrastingly, non-westerners view emotions as having multiple causes, most of which are external to an individual. This individual, Western view of emotions arose from Descartes’s separation of mind and body (Malik 148). After Descartes, “emotions were now clearly located in the body and thought in the mind” (Malik 148). I’ve never really thought of emotions as having a “location.” If an emotion has a “location,” in the body, does this mean it contains matter/mass? This “location” of emotions in the body could help explain the effects emotions have on the body, like stress (increased blood pressure, tension in the neck/shoulder area, etc.). The physical toll depression/melancholy has on the human body could then be more widely accepted with this theory of emotions.
The “indigenous” and British Pakistanis who were interviewed categorized causes of distress/depression “into circumstantial, relational (kinship), personality and supernatural causes. The predominant causes…were circumstances and relationships, which are external to the body” (Malik 153). It seems like indigenous and British Pakistanis have a much better understanding of the complexity of depression and its multiple causes, as compared to the rather reductionist American/Western view that depression is ‘simply’ a chemical imbalance. Maybe depression is a chemical imbalance, but what causes the imbalance? Maybe stressful relationships result in either an over or under production of a certain chemical which then results in depression/depression-like symptoms. Attempting to solely treat depression is futile; there seems to almost always be other underlying causes/factors to depression – isn’t this why individuals go to therapy – in an attempt to better their relationships/thinking patterns? I don’t think anyone would assert that therapy of any kind is a direct intervention on chemicals in the brain. As long as these other underlying causes/factors of depression are present, the depression itself will be present, no matter what antidepressants an individual is taking. It is necessary to examine the underlying causes/factors of depression and learn how to best deal/cope with them since they most likely cannot simply be cut out of the individual’s life.
In contrast to this view on depression, “In Euro-American cultures, although theorists acknowledge that emotions are evoked in a social context, they tend to ‘psychologise’ them, presenting them as an index of a personal state, rather than of social relationships as in other cultures” (Malik 148). Could ‘psychologise’ be replaced with medicalize? This view puts all the blame of any negative emotion on the individual, rather than looking at possible causes, like that individual’s relationships, the individual’s culture/society, etc. In this view, an individual could be blamed for his/her own depression, contributing to the negative stigma associated with mental illness in Western cultures.