With each new issue of Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, we feature a series of blog posts that highlight the latest publications in our journal. This September’s issue features articles that address psychiatric conditions and the experiences of people with mental illness across cultures. The articles span studies in India, the United States, East Africa, Iran, and Belize. Readers may access the full issue at Springer here: http://link.springer.com/journal/11013/39/3/page/1. In this issue highlight, we will explore the emergence of public discourse about mental illness, suffering, and political struggle in Iran.
Writing Prozak Diaries in Tehran: Generational Anomie and Psychiatric Subjectivities
Orkideh Behrouzan – Pages 399-426
Behrouzan’s study began upon noticing young Iranians discussing mental illness in blogs and in public forums in the early 2000s. At the same time, the author examined unpublished public health records maintained by the state, and noticed that there was a sharp rise in the prescription rate of antidepressants in the mid to late 1990s. This pattern correlated with a shift in the understanding of suffering: during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, PTSD and anxiety disorders were considered the most pressing mental health concerns, but these illnesses became supplanted by a shared culture of loss and hopelessness amongst young Iranians in the period following the war.
Unlike the narrative of depression in other places, however, Behrouzan found that the Iranian category of depreshen held deep political meanings. The illness category reflected the condition of those unable to publicly mourn for friends and family who may have been executed as political prisoners, or to process grief about continued political unrest that seemed to have no resolution, or to understand the loss of a parent during wartime as a young child. As one Iranian blogger described, “our delights were small: cheap plastic footballs, cartoons and game cards… But our fears were big: what if a bomb targets our house?” Thus depreshen becomes an experience of suffering that reverberates throughout a generation.
However, Iranian psychiatry responds to this condition outside of its cultural context, and continues to treat depreshen as an individual patient pathology that can be understood in biological terms. By biomedicalizing depreshen in this way without understanding its connection to political struggle, Iranian psychiatry minimizes suffering and “takes away subjects’ abilities to interpret and/or draw on their pain as a political resource.” When we interpret depreshen from the perspective of patients, therefore, we gain a nuanced view of suffering that is at once culturally specific and politically powerful.