Mental Health Monday–Running Amok

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Amok is a culture-bound syndrome (defined as a constellation of psychiatric symptoms found only in a specific culture) that originated in Malaysia. It means the sufferer goes on a rageful killing spree because of some resentment or perceived mistreatment. Malaysians believe it is caused by “hantu belian,” an evil tiger spirit that possesses a person and makes them perform extremely violent acts.

The usual scenario includes a man with no history of violence or assaultive behavior who suddenly secures a weapon and attempts to kill anyone he encounters. This “running amok” generally occurs in crowded areas and generally ends with his death. Some feel it is a way of committing suicide because intentional suicide is heavily stigmatized in Malaysian culture.

Running amok can also refer to less severe forms of acting out and variations on this theme are found in other cultures. So whether you call it “going postal” or performing “suicide by cop,” amok is a highly volatile syndrome that doesn’t typically end well for those involved.

Be sure to check out Lydia’s Medical Monday post and Sarah’s post! Remember, these posts are for writing purposes ONLY and are NOT to be construed asa medical treatment or advice.

11 comments on “Mental Health Monday–Running Amok

  1. Linda Gray says:

    Much as I’d like to believe in the ‘evil tiger spirit’ possession, it doesn’t work for me. I’ve always wondered, when people commit suicide by cop, or suicide by any means that also kills others, isn’t there some deep thread of inability to be compassionate involved? Something that’s been there all along? Surely depression can’t account for the level of selfishness that seems part of killing others to kill oneself. Am I just naive or closed-minded about this?

  2. This post is painfully timely after what happened in Norway on Friday. But he may have been too cold-blooded to call his evil ‘running amok.’

    I find it very interesting that the word came from Malaysia – I’d assumed it came out of the Viking tradition.

  3. Lydia K says:

    This does not sound like what happened in Norway. Still, it’s a fascinating, albeit horrible, condition. Thanks Laura!

  4. I’ve heard the expression ‘running amok’ before as a child, but never understood the true darkness behind it. I’m sure there are a number of medical/scientific explanations for it, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.

  5. Vicki Tremper says:

    Scary and timely.

  6. Donna Hole says:

    I’ve always associated “running amok” with general acting out. Didn’t know it had such a violent beginning. Thanks Laura.


  7. Leigh Moore says:

    hey, that’s super interesting–and I’m sure prompted by the whole Norway thing. I’m w/dhole in that I always thought it was less violent. As in when my eight year old is running around the living room knocking off various home accessories.

    Thanks for the bkg~ :o)

  8. lbdiamond says:

    Thanks for the great comments, folks! Gotta say I’d written this post last week BEFORE the events in Norway and I had not put a connection between the two. 😉

  9. roguemutt says:

    I don’t suppose there is much treatment for going amok, unless you catch it beforehand. Afterwards you’re either going to be in prison or the morgue, right?

  10. roguemutt says:

    Isn’t much treatment, dang it.

  11. Fun trivia. Thanks for sharing it.

    The word ‘amok’ makes me think of the Star Trek episode ‘Amok Time’, so here are two bits of trivia about Amok Time:
    * It was written by Science Fiction author Theodore Sturgeon.
    * The original draft table was “Spock blows top.”

    If you get a chance, check out a fellow writer’s zombie story and help me make him wear an embarrassing shirt next year! It’s the ultimate grudge match between social media and the zombies. Details are here:

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