Dealing with the unknown. Functional neurological disorder (FND) and the conversion of cultural meaning

Publication date: Available online 9 December 2019Source: Social Science &MedicineAuthor(s): Maddalena Canna, Rebecca SeligmanAbstractFunctional Neurological Disorder (FND), otherwise known as Conversion Disorder, is characterized by abnormal sensory or motor symptoms that are determined to be “incompatible” with neurological disease. FND patients are a challenge for contemporary medicine. They experience high levels of distress, disability, and social isolation, yet a large proportion of those treated do not get better. Patients with FNDs are often misdiagnosed and suffer from stigma, dysfunctional medical encounters and scarcity of adequate treatments. In this paper we argue that an anthropological understanding of these phenomena is needed for improving diagnosis and therapies. We argue that cultural meaning is pivotal in the development of FND on three levels. 1) The embodiment of cultural models, as shared representations and beliefs about illnesses shape the manifestation of symptoms and the meanings of sensations; 2) The socialization of personal trauma and chronic stress, as the way in which individuals are socially primed to cope or to reframe personal trauma and chronic stress affects bodily symptoms; 3) Moral judgment, as stigma and ethical evaluations of symptoms impact coping abilities and resilience. In particular, we focus on the disorder known as PNES (Psychogenic-Non-Epileptic Seizure) to show how cultural meaning co-determines the development...
Source: Social Science and Medicine - Category: Psychiatry & Psychology Source Type: research

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