Applying Syndemics and Chronicity: Interpretations from Studies of Poverty, Depression, and Diabetes

Lesley Jo Weaver, Emily Mendenhall
2014 Medical Anthropology  
Medical anthropologists working with global health agendas must develop transdisciplinary frameworks to communicate their work. This article explores two similar but underutilized theoretical frameworks in medical anthropology, and discusses how they facilitate new insights about the relationships between epidemiological patterns and individual-level illness experiences. Two cases from our fieldwork in New Delhi and Chicago are presented to illustrate how syndemics and chronicity theories
more » ... n the epidemic problems of co-occurring depression and type 2 diabetes. We use these case studies to illustrate how the holistic agendas of syndemics and chronicity theories allow critical scholars to attend to the macrosocial factors contributing to the rise of noncommunicable diseases while still honoring the diversity of experiences that make individual illness experiences, and actual outcomes, unique. Such an approach not only promotes a more integrative medical anthropology, but also contributes to global health dialogues around diabetes, depression, and their overlap. Keywords chronic illness, chronicity, health inequality, syndemics, urban health For more than a decade, medical anthropologists have sought to distinguish critical from biocultural approaches, and such divisions have resulted in two distinct theoretical and methodological orientations (Brown et al. 2009; Dressler 2005; Hruschka, Lende, and LESLEY JO WEAVER, PhD, MPH, is currently completing a postdoctoral year of research and teaching in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University. Her work is biocultural in approach and centers broadly on the intersections between chronic illnesses and mental health in developing countries. In addition to the New Delhi-based research discussed in this article, Weaver is currently conducting pilot work for a study exploring chronic diseases, food insecurity, and mental health in rural Brazil. EMILY MENDENHALL, PhD, MPH, has conducted research on social suffering and the syndemics of depression and diabetes among the urban poor in the United States, India, and South Africa. Her work in Chicago culminated in her recent book, Syndemic Suffering: Social Distress, Depression, and Diabetes among Mexican Immigrants (2012). Other studies have been conducted as a
doi:10.1080/01459740.2013.808637 pmid:24512380 fatcat:66u2z3s5mjho3mzu5nvji3auy4