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The Sleeping Beauties: and other stories of the social life of illness

eBook $16.99

$16.99

$16.99

It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease, than what sort of disease a patient has. William Osler
Suzanne O'Sullivan is a neurologist, who looks after people with brain diseases. She is also fascinated by psychosomatic disorders - seizures, paralysis, blindness - disabilities that originate more in the mind than in the structure of the brain. Hysteria by another name. Medical conditions that people find so shameful that they often exist below the radar. Or they are given labels that make them more acceptable or more difficult to spot. Some believe that hysteria is rare. Any neurologist will tell you it isn’t. They see a form of it in every clinic, on every working day. For those like O'Sullivan, who are drawn to it, sightings are not restricted to the clinic. It is everywhere. And this is how she learned about Andrei, and the 424 other children in Sweden like him, children who have fallen into a state of apathy, a waking coma, some for months, some for years. But why?

The Sleeping Beauties is the story of these children in Sweden but it is also an exploration of different aspects of psychosomatic disorders, mass hysteria, culture bound syndromes and the idioms of distress. Culture bound syndromes are a set of symptoms that exist only within a particular society. Windigo is a condition that affects Native Americans. It manifests as a fear that the sufferer has turned into a cannibal. Koro, an intense anxiety that the penis will recede into the body, is seen almost exclusively in Malaysia. Susto is prevalent in Latinos who live in the States. Triggered by traumatic events the symptoms include anorexia, nervousness, insomnia and diarrhea. There are over two hundred culture bound syndromes. They are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as rare psychiatric conditions. However within the societies in which they exist they are more likely to be regarded as folk illnesses. They are culturally acceptable ways to express distress. Two questions arise. Who defines psychiatric illness and what shapes the manner in which distress is communicated within a society?

Reminiscent of the work of Oliver Sacks, Stephen Grosz and Henry Marsh, this is a remarkable scientific investigation with a very human face.

Book Information

  • ISBN: 9781760985967
  • Format: eBook
  • Pub Date: 11/05/2021
  • Category: Mathematics & science / Popular science
    Mathematics & science / Neurosciences
    Society & social sciences / Physiological & neuro-psychology, biopsychology
    Sweden
  • Imprint: Picador
  • Price: $16.99

It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease, than what sort of disease a patient has. William Osler
Suzanne O'Sullivan is a neurologist, who looks after people with brain diseases. She is also fascinated by psychosomatic disorders - seizures, paralysis, blindness - disabilities that originate more in the mind than in the structure of the brain. Hysteria by another name. Medical conditions that people find so shameful that they often exist below the radar. Or they are given labels that make them more acceptable or more difficult to spot. Some believe that hysteria is rare. Any neurologist will tell you it isn’t. They see a form of it in every clinic, on every working day. For those like O'Sullivan, who are drawn to it, sightings are not restricted to the clinic. It is everywhere. And this is how she learned about Andrei, and the 424 other children in Sweden like him, children who have fallen into a state of apathy, a waking coma, some for months, some for years. But why?

The Sleeping Beauties is the story of these children in Sweden but it is also an exploration of different aspects of psychosomatic disorders, mass hysteria, culture bound syndromes and the idioms of distress. Culture bound syndromes are a set of symptoms that exist only within a particular society. Windigo is a condition that affects Native Americans. It manifests as a fear that the sufferer has turned into a cannibal. Koro, an intense anxiety that the penis will recede into the body, is seen almost exclusively in Malaysia. Susto is prevalent in Latinos who live in the States. Triggered by traumatic events the symptoms include anorexia, nervousness, insomnia and diarrhea. There are over two hundred culture bound syndromes. They are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as rare psychiatric conditions. However within the societies in which they exist they are more likely to be regarded as folk illnesses. They are culturally acceptable ways to express distress. Two questions arise. Who defines psychiatric illness and what shapes the manner in which distress is communicated within a society?

Reminiscent of the work of Oliver Sacks, Stephen Grosz and Henry Marsh, this is a remarkable scientific investigation with a very human face.

Author Information

Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan has been a consultant in neurology since 2004, first working at The Royal London Hospital and now as a consultant in clinical neurophysiology and neurology at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, and for a specialist unit based at the Epilepsy Society. She specialises in the investigation of complex epilepsy and also has an active interest in psychogenic disorders. Suzanne’s first book It's All in Your Head, won both the Wellcome Book Prize and the Royal Society of Biology Book Prize and her critically acclaimed Brainstorm was published in 2018

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