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Coraje, Nervios, and Susto: Culture-Bound Syndromes and Mental Health Among Mexican Migrants in the United States
Advances in Mental Health (2010)
  • William "Ted" Donlan, Portland State University
  • Junghee Lee, Portland State University

Purpose: This study explored inter-relationships among three culture-bound syndromes, coraje, nervios, or susto, commonly found among Latino populations. Associations of each syndrome to a range of indicators of health, culture, and sociodemographic background were examined. Implications for mental health practitioners working with migrant populations coming from diverse cultural backgrounds were addressed.

Methods: A total of 179 Mexican-origin migrants were interviewed using a Spanish language questionnaire. Participants were asked whether they had experiences with coraje, nervios, or susto. Phi correlation coefficient was reported as a measure of the degree of co-occurrence of (a) current and lifetime culture-bound syndromes, and (b) the three syndromes with each other. Associations of each syndrome with gender, and urgent health care need were tested using the chi-square test. Relationships between each syndrome with (a) each item contained in the PHQ-9, and (b) other demographic, health, and culture related variables were tested using the t-test.

Results: A majority of migrants reported experiencing at least one culture-bound syndrome in their lifetime, and nearly a third of participants reported to be currently suffering from at least one syndrome. Women reported significantly higher prevalence of all three culture bound-syndromes. Significant relationships between lifetime experiences of culture-bound syndromes with health related indicators were found. Findings suggest that coraje and nervios are the most prevalent and co-morbid.

Conclusion/Implications: This study illuminated some of the links that exist between three non-Western cultural expressions of mental/emotional distress (coraje, nervios, or susto) and indicators commonly used by the Western biomedical model of mental illness. These findings offer some evidence for how mainstream mental health systems providing services to Mexican migrants and other Latinos can interpret the meaning of these cultural idioms of distress.

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Citation Information
William "Ted" Donlan and Junghee Lee. "Coraje, Nervios, and Susto: Culture-Bound Syndromes and Mental Health Among Mexican Migrants in the United States" Advances in Mental Health Vol. 9 (2010)
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