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October 2022

Am J Psychiatry. 1979 Jun; 136(6): 755-61.

"Folk" criteria for the diagnosis of mental illness in rural Laos: on being insane in sane places.

Westermeyer J, Wintrob R.

"Folk" criteria for identifying the mentally ill, as distinguished from folk theories about the causes of mental illness, have been comparatively neglected in cultural psychiatry. The authors describe the criteria by which villagers in Laos labeled 35 subjects as baa (insane). Unprovoked assaultive or destructive behavior, social isolation, self-endangerment due to neglect of personal needs, nonviolent but socially disruptive or inappropriate behavior, and inability to do productive work were found to be important folk criteria. The authors emphasize that folk criteria for mental illness are determined primarily by the persistence of socially dysfunctional behavior rather than by disturbances in thought and affect.

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