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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.