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October 2022

Cult Med Psychiatry. 1979 Sep; 3(3): 301-17.

Folk concepts of mental disorder among the Lao: continuities with similar concepts in other cultures and in psychiatry.

Westermeyer J.

Folk concepts for mental disorder were studied among rural Lao people. While predominatly inferring etiology (e.g. spirit-caused disorder), certain terms also emphasized particular descriptive psychopathology or behavioral abnormality. Preventive strategies were stressed for insanity due to "excessive worry' or "broken taboo'. These broad folk categories of disorder bore considerable similarity to some psychiatric and neurologic categories within medicine. These includes psychosis, mania, neurosis, organic brain syndrome, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and childhood autism. Lao folk terms for mental disorder also closely resembled those of other southern Asian cultures, although illiterate tribal peoples appeared to have fewer terms than literate peasant peoples. Folk terms from more distant regions had broad similarity to those of southeast Asia, but lacked the specificity found within the region.

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