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Biocommunicability and Superstition in Notions of Mental Unwellness in Belize

Huff, Gabriella (2021) Biocommunicability and Superstition in Notions of Mental Unwellness in Belize. Masters thesis, Northern Arizona University.

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Much qualitative research has demonstrated the variability and non-universal nature of conceptualizations of mental health and illness in different contexts, including ideas about illness etiology, timing and form of symptom onset, prognosis, and acceptable treatment. While much anthropological literature exists on how understandings of mental health and illness differ between contexts, to my knowledge there is limited qualitative research investigating the Belizean context. My research, described in this thesis, explored ideas about authoritative knowledge on the topic of mental health in television segments; the perceived individuality of psychological struggles and those experiencing them; and societal reactions to those perceived as behaving abnormally. I conducted 15 qualitative interviews and reviewed archival data from a series of television segments featuring mental health professionals to understand how mental unwellness is spoken about in Belize. I draw from Briggs and Hallin’s (2015) theory of biocommunicability to consider professional authority on the topic of mental health; and Goffman’s (1963) theory of stigma to explore participants’ notions of reasons for failure to engage in mental health care. I also consider the factors and individual characteristics understood as contributing to mental unhealth and how they inform participants’ variable interpretations of behavior and flexible recommended interventions. To provide additional context to comments about superstition and my interpretations of the limits placed on care-seeking in relation to mental unwellness, I briefly describe the history of and comments about Obeah, an Afro-Caribbean belief system developed during the transatlantic slave trade that has continued as a “medicine art” in Belize. Ultimately, participants’ judgments about some care as appropriate and some as merely “superstitious” and “stigmatizing” to those with abnormal behaviors simplifies and de-emphasizes macro, micro, and individual factors influencing health related decisions. In a process of attributing continued mental health problems to undesirable mental health management strategies of not seeking psy-resources, and blaming patterns of doing “nothing” on superstitious beliefs, fears of stigma, and Belizean emotion management strategies, participants indirectly implicate culture in the perpetuation of psychological struggles. Future research should explore the factors influencing decisions to not seek psy-resources in Belize.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Publisher’s Statement: © Copyright is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Keywords: Belize; biocommunicability; individualized care; mental health; Obeah; stigma
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
MeSH Subjects: F Psychiatry and Psychology > F03 Mental Disorders
NAU Depositing Author Academic Status: Student
Department/Unit: Graduate College > Theses and Dissertations
College of Social and Behavioral Science > Anthropology
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2022 17:10
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2022 17:10
URI: https://openknowledge.nau.edu/id/eprint/5773

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