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Cultural Differences and Conceptualization of Depression by the Hmong People

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Cultural Differences and Conceptualization of Depression by the Hmong People

Angelica Magpantay

University of Toronto

HLTA02H3

Monday, November 23, 2015

Introduction

Hmong people are one of the many immigrants that came to United States as refugees in 1975 (Chang and Lee, 2012). They came to United States to escape the Vietnam War and in hope for a better life for them and their family. Even though they have a strong desire to maintain their culture, the Western culture is slowly washing their traditions away; culture, tradition, spiritual healing, sickness and depression are interlinked with one another.  In the film “The Split Horn”, we can see how the standard way of living is different between cultures and how this can affect a person’s health, whether this is in a good or bad way.

Conceptualization of Depression and Its Treatment

Similar to health, depression can have many definitions as well. Following the biomedical model, depression can be seen as a serious medical condition in which the person has a deep feeling of sadness and hopelessness (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). However, traditional Hmong believes that a person can go into depression when one of the seven souls they have has drifted away or gets frightened (Sieggel, McSilver, & Siegel, 2001). Hmong people strongly believe that a Shaman is the only person who is able to heal them. This is due to the fact that the Shaman can perform rituals, such as shaking or dancing on a wooden bench (Siegel et al., 2001). The meaning of this action is that the Shaman spiritually follows the soul of the sick person to the sky and when he catches the soul, the sick person feels better (Siegel et al., 2001).  Without Shamans, Hmong people would get sick and die. In addition, another way that a Shaman can return the soul to the body is by tying different colours of strings to the person’s wrist in the hope that it will shield the sick person from evil spirits (Siegel et al., 2001). Hmong also uses animals to treat illnesses. They believed that the human body and animals are strongly connected to one another  (Siegel et al., 2001).

Hmong’s Culture in Contrast to the Biomedical Model

Even though there are other models of health present, the world is mostly following the biomedical model. Since Hmong people have a strong desire to maintain their culture, people like Paja and his wife can have a hard time adjusting to United States, a modern place that is constantly changing. In which it is very common for people who wants to be doctors to take an examination to test their capabilities, it is a belief in the Hmong culture that the healer is chosen by their ancestors when the Shaman’s soul are passed to them from their predecessor (Siegel et al., 2001). Hmong people believes that when a person has lost their soul, they will become depressed and only until a Shaman has performed the soul-calling ritual will they get back to normal (Siegel et al., 2001). Unlike in the Western culture where depression is seen as psychological state, depression for Hmong is viewed as something to do with the soul separating from the body.  Treatments of depression in the Unites States include medications and patient-practitioner communication (Kleinman, 2004). This is different for Hmong, which uses horns to determine which way the soul has gone. Another difference that exists between the Hmong and Western culture is that most of the medical terminology used to describe the illness and symptoms don’t exist in Hmong language (Johnson, 2002). The Hmong people also feel that they are specifically vulnerable to harmful spirits during the night (Johnson, 2002). This belief makes them want to watch over their loved ones in the hospital, which causes a problem for nurses who believe that they are disrupting the patient’s sleep during the night (Johnson, 2002).

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