Eudysphoria is a neologism coined by A. Gaines to represent and characterize dysphoric (the Greek meaning “hard to bear”) affect that is ego-syntonic and positively experienced in particular cultural contexts. The term critiques U.S. ethnopsychiatry’s uniformly negative conception of dysphoric affect and highlights the existence of distinct, positive cultural evaluations thereof.
Psychiatry interprets dysphoric affect in the form of depression as the most common major mental disorder and asserts it is largely biological in etiology. However, sophisticated psychiatric epidemiological studies regularly yield incomparable incidence, prevalence, and/or lifetime incidence rates for depression and dysthymia. Some of the varying results derive from “the rhetoric of complaint,” a Mediterranean self-presentation style stressing misfortune and suffering that enhances self- and social esteem.
Patterned configurations and modes of expression of eudysphoria are found in several culture areas. In the Latin world, they are labeled peha, dano, tristitia, debilidad, saladera, and nervios. We find stenohorias and nevra in Greece and fatigue/triste touts le temps in France and among immigrant groups from these areas.
The history of Mediterranean religions exhibits an association of dysphoric affect/suffering and religious piety that has led to its positive evaluation and social utility. In this context, those who suffer or who are blessed equally exhibit the grace of divine attention.
As well, the ability to deeply experience suffering and sadness is a mark of a mature personality.
Discursive practices and rituals foster this capacity, which can lead to the popular conferral of the title of “saint.”
A second cultural system exhibiting eudysphoria is the Buddhist. Here, what Westerners regard as noxious, dispiriting thoughts of worthlessness, meaninglessness, and futility indicate instead deep insight demonstrative of burgeoning enlightenment and transcendence.
While some authors argue for the importance of culture in shaping depression, they yet commonly assume an acultural, biological substrate. Gaines demonstrated the logical problem with this view. Allowing B = biology and C = culture, and D = depression/dysphoria, as “it” is experienced in a specific culture, we find that Western (ethno)psychiatry presumes that universally, B + C = D.
However, the equation’s factors are not single entities. Rather, they are heterogeneous categories, comprising various cultures’ notions of biology and of distinct cultures, respectively. Biology is a category constituted by a number of the world’s distinct biologies. Gaines groups these under the general rubric of local biology. The second term of the equation, C, is also problematic because the great heterogeneity of cultures is well established. Thus, the equation cannot hold. For a given culture, C1, the formula yields: B1 + C1 = Dl, while for a second, the equation is B2 + C2 = D2. For n cultures, the formula is: Bn + Cn= Dn. However, since D1 D2 Dn, it is illogical to assert that dysphoria or depression (as emotion, mood, or disorder) has either biological or experiential universality.
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