An anthropological investigation of mental health in Haiti: Language, measurement, and the socio-spiritual world

This dissertation examines issues of language, measurement, meaning, vulnerability, and resilience as they relate to the study of mental distress. I draw on interpretive and political economy theoretical orientations to argue that investigations of mental distress must combine attention to systems of meaning-making and structural violence. In the first chapter, I consider how bridging anthropology and epidemiology can advance measurement in global mental health, balancing the sometimes competing goals of ethnographic validity and cross-cultural comparison. In chapter 2, I examine the idiom of distress reflechi twòp (“thinking too much”), a cultural syndrome that indexes intense rumination and social isolation, often linked to perceived failure and lack of agency due to economic conditions. I argue that this idiom of distress serves as an indirect critique of the structural violence at its root.

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