Ghost sickness is a culture-bound syndrome which some American Indian tribes believe to be caused by association with the dead or dying and is sometimes associated with witchcraft. It is considered to be a psychotic disorder of Navajo origin. Its symptoms include general weakness, loss of appetite, a feeling of suffocation, recurring nightmares, and a pervasive feeling of terror. The sickness is attributed to ghosts (chindi) or, occasionally, to witches.
The sufferer may be mildly obsessed with death or a deceased person whom they believe to be the source of their affliction. Physical symptoms can include weakness and fatigue, diminished appetite, or other digestion problems. There may be dizziness or fainting and sometimes even loss of consciousness. At times the sufferer might experience a sense of suffocation or inability to breath. Psychological symptoms may include nightmares or other sleep disturbances, anxiety, or a sense of being in danger. He or she may experience hallucinations or confusion. At some point there can be feelings of pointlessness or depression.
Ghost sickness may be brought about from the belief that the dead may try to take someone with them. "Spirits or “ghosts” may be viewed as being directly or indirectly linked to the cause of an event, accident, or illness." Both Erikson (1963) and Macgregor (1946/1975; 1970) report substantiating evidence of trauma response features including: (a) withdrawal and psychic numbing, (b) anxiety and hypervigilance, (c) guilt, (d) identification with ancestral pain and death, and (e) chronic sadness and depression.
Somatization is another manifestation of unresolved grief for Native Americans. Somatization, also known as Briquet's syndrome, is a chronic condition with numerous physical complaints most commonly involving the digestive system, the nervous system and chronic pain. Physicians are unable to find an underlying physical cause for the patients symptoms which can persists for years and can be severe enough to interfere with employment and personal relationships.
Another possible manifestation of unresolved grief for Native Americans is the high rate of suicide among some tribes. This can be seen in self-destructive behaviors brought about by the inability to process grief through traditional rituals. High suicide rates can also be a manifestation of a obsession with the dead in which the sufferer may have an unconscious wish to join their deceased loved one.