Friday, June 4, 2010

Fine, Thanks: Russians and Depression

Andrew Soloman, in The Noonday Demon: At Atlas of Depression, writes:
Anna Halberstadt, a New York-based psychiatrist who works exclusively with Russian immigrants disappointed by the United States, said, "You have to be able to hear in the Russian context what these people are saying. If a Soviet-born Russian person were to come to my office and not complain about anything, I'd have him hospitalized. If he complains about everything, I know he is fine. Only if he were to show signs of extreme paranoia or excruciating pain would I think he might be getting depressed. It's our cultural norm. 'How are you?' 'Not so good' is the standard answer for Russians. It's part of what confuses them about the U.S., this statement that seems ridiculous, really: 'Fine, thanks, and how are you?' And honestly it's difficult for me too, even now, to hear people say this. 'Fine, thank you.' Who's fine?"


orrologion said...

I think this is a Slavic/Balkan/Eastern European thing, in general. The best example has always been our old Albanian super in NYC. We had some problem that needed attention (leak from the ceiling, flooding) but the super complained she could not, she was dying. Showing compassion, and pressing her, my wife got her to admit she was bleeding to death. Yup, that's right, her period. That was all - but it was 'death'.

My (immigrant) Russian history professor at BU said much the same, as well. While an American will respond to "How are you doing?" with "good", a Russian will respond "terrible". Both will go on to tell you the truth if the conversation continues, but this is the knee jerk response.

Personally, I've always found this to be an example of a lack of faith in God, I'm sorry to say. (Not on an individual level, just as a broad generalization). While socially one could see the Slavic response as being humble - "I'm not doing better than you or anyone, I am the worst of sinners and suffering my just consequences" - on the other hand it is a refusal to give "glory to God for all things", to be thankful, to trust "that all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom 8:28). False pessimism is as much a 'lie' as false optimism, but lying isn't really the issue.

Anonymous said...

I think this stereotype might be changing a bit. In my personal experience I can't remember a time when one of my Russian friends complained how bad things were or said anything other than that they were doing ok when I were to ask them. Sure they may have gone into detail later and I found out they were actually sick but I usually find now overarching pessimism or depressing atmosphere. Of course, I'm sure the fact that most Russians I talk to are fairly young (though most "Soviet-born") and Orthodox might make a difference.

Athanasia said...

Perhaps I have some Russian in me then because I usually answer, "Meh. Not so good today." :o)

This actually made me feel better for some odd reason. Thank you Father!