Susto, a Spanish and Portuguese word, is the term for an illness treated in Curanderismo. The affliction has indigenous Amerindian roots, and is notably occurring in Latin American cultures. As such it’s defined as a “cultural illness” or “folk illness,” sometimes also called a “culture-bound syndrome,” that is, a syndrome which is limited to only a certain group of people.
Susto could be roughly translated as “a scare” or “a fright,” and is a chronic health condition in which the patient somatically (physically) suffers because of some kind of “spirit attack,” frightening event, shock, emotional trauma, or from witnessing traumatic experiences of other people. The “scare” can be caused by any unexpected and striking event, such as the death of someone, a fire, war, sexual abuse, earthquake, dog attack, or car accident, and so on.
It’s thought that Susto entails “spirit loss” or “soul loss” (caused by the “sudden scare”), which can result in mental illness. In fact, one needs to take this rather literally: the soul or spirit has left the body and is scared to return to it because it doesn’t feel safe. Nevertheless, the idea of “soul loss” is more prevalent in indigenous communities compared to urban cosmopolitan populations.
The most common symptoms of a Susto include one or more of the following complaints: nervousness, panic attacks, fear, weakness, anorexia, fatigue, sadness, insomnia, loss of appetite, a rapid pulse, listlessness, feeling shaky, restlessness, fever, anhedonia, physical complaints, lack of dreams, weight gain or loss, withdrawal, lack of interest, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and/or diarrhea.
The treatment of Susto by a Curandero (a practitioner of Curanderismo) can consist of a variety of remedies, which include herbal medicine, sweating out toxins, massage to encourage blood circulation, healing rituals, sweeping (over the body), and/or prayer.