Susto

Susto

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Susto is a cultural illness, specifically a "fright sickness" with strong psychological overtones. Susto comes from the Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, and Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 word for "fright" (i.e. sudden intense fear, as of something immediately threatening). A more severe and potentially fatal form of susto is called espanto (also from Spanish and Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, meaning terror or intense fright). It is indigenously attributed to "soul loss" resulting from frightful or traumatic experiences. Among Indigenous peoples of Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

, susto may be conceptualized as a case of spirit attack.

Culturally stressed adults (women more often than men) are most likely to suffer from susto, although children may also be afflicted. The onset
Onset
Onset may refer to:*Onset , the beginning of a musical note or sound*Interonset interval, a term in music*Syllable onset, a term in phonetics and phonology*Onset, Massachusetts, village in the United States...

 of the disease generally follows a sudden frightening experience such as an accident, a fall, witnessing a relative's sudden death
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

, or any other potentially dangerous event. Research shows that knowledge of the existence of susto is a major contributing factor in improving the condition.

Symptoms and treatment


Symptom
Symptom
A symptom is a departure from normal function or feeling which is noticed by a patient, indicating the presence of disease or abnormality...

s of susto are thought to include nervousness, anorexia
Anorexia (symptom)
Anorexia is the decreased sensation of appetite...

, insomnia
Insomnia
Insomnia is most often defined by an individual's report of sleeping difficulties. While the term is sometimes used in sleep literature to describe a disorder demonstrated by polysomnographic evidence of disturbed sleep, insomnia is often defined as a positive response to either of two questions:...

, listlessness, despondency
Depression (mood)
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless...

, involuntary muscle tics, and diarrhea
Diarrhea
Diarrhea , also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements per day. It is a common cause of death in developing countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and...

. A variety of placebo
Placebo
A placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient...

 treatments may be used to treat susto. Treatments include the consumption of orange blossom
Orange Blossom
Orange Blossom is a French band that plays a mix of electronic and world music.The band was formed in Nantes in 1993 with Pierre-Jean Chabot on violin and Jean-Christophe Waechter on percussions and vocals....

, brazil wood or marijuana
Cannabis (drug)
Cannabis, also known as marijuana among many other names, refers to any number of preparations of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or for medicinal purposes. The English term marijuana comes from the Mexican Spanish word marihuana...

 teas. An oral solution of figs
FIGS
FIGS is an acronym for French, Italian, German, Spanish. These are usually the first four languages chosen to localize products into when a company enters the European market....

 boiled in vinegar
Vinegar
Vinegar is a liquid substance consisting mainly of acetic acid and water, the acetic acid being produced through the fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. Commercial vinegar is produced either by fast or slow fermentation processes. Slow methods generally are used with traditional...

 is also imagined to be somewhat therapeutic.

Supposedly, the most effective cures are the ceremonies known as limpieza (Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 for "cleansing") or barrida (Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 for "sweeping"). The limpia or barrida are considered to be best administered immediately after the traumatic event
Traumatic event
A traumatic event is an event that is or may be a cause of trauma. The term may refer to one of the followiong:*Traumatic event , an event associated with a physical trauma...

 occurs, and are ideally conducted by a curandero
Curandero
A curandero or curandeiro is a traditional folk healer or shaman in Latin America, who is dedicated to curing physical or spiritual illnesses. The role of a curandero or curandera can also incorporate the roles of psychiatrist along with that of doctor and healer. Many curanderos use Catholic...

 (healer). During the limpia/barrida, the patient recounts the details of the frightening event, then lies down on the floor on the axis of a crucifix
Crucifix
A crucifix is an independent image of Jesus on the cross with a representation of Jesus' body, referred to in English as the corpus , as distinct from a cross with no body....

. The curandero may have the crucifix
Crucifix
A crucifix is an independent image of Jesus on the cross with a representation of Jesus' body, referred to in English as the corpus , as distinct from a cross with no body....

 outlined with aluminum foil or other shiny material. The victim's body is then brushed with a bouquet of fresh herbs such as basil
Basil
Basil, or Sweet Basil, is a common name for the culinary herb Ocimum basilicum , of the family Lamiaceae , sometimes known as Saint Joseph's Wort in some English-speaking countries....

, purple sage
Common sage
Salvia officinalis is a small, perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the family Lamiaceae and is native to the Mediterranean region, though it has naturalized in many places throughout the world...

, rosemary
Rosemary
Rosemary, , is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple or blue flowers, native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes many other herbs, and is one of two species in the genus Rosmarinus...

 or rue
Rue
Rue is a genus of strongly scented evergreen subshrubs 20–60 cm tall, in the family Rutaceae, native to the Mediterranean region, Macaronesia and southwest Asia. There are perhaps 8 to 40 species in the genus...

, while the curandero and other participants recite prayer
Prayer
Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of...

s (usually the Apostles' Creed
Apostles' Creed
The Apostles' Creed , sometimes titled Symbol of the Apostles, is an early statement of Christian belief, a creed or "symbol"...

). Depending on local custom, the curandero may also jump over the victim's body. This is thought by some to exhort the frightened soul back into the body.

Classification


Because there is no universal understanding of this phenomenon and symptoms vary from culture to culture, susto is generally regarded as either a folk illness or a culture bound syndrome.

Traditional Western medicine has not yet recognized susto but there are some similarities between susto and certain anxiety disorders. "Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...

" and "acute stress disorder," in particular, share many similarities with the condition known as susto. The DSM-IV-TR also states that certain forms of post-traumatic stress disorder are diagnosed more often in cases when symptoms that are characteristic of susto (which include diminished participation in significant activities, feeling of detachment from others, and difficulty falling or staying asleep) are reported.

Many anthropologists also contend that susto is the Latin American version of schizophrenia
Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of thought processes and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests itself as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social...

.

Further reading

Also published as chapter 12 in David Landy (ed) (1977) Culture, Disease, and Healing: Studies in Medical Anthropology, New York: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-02-367390-7

External links