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Keywords:

  • ataque de nervios;
  • trauma;
  • anxiety;
  • cross-cultural;
  • dissociation

Abstract

Objective: Ataque de nervios is a common, self-labeled Hispanic folk diagnosis. It typically describes episodic, dramatic outbursts of negative emotion in response to a stressor, sometimes involving destructive behavior. Dissociation and affective dysregulation during such episodes suggested a link to childhood trauma. We therefore assessed psychiatric diagnoses, history of ataque, and childhood trauma in treatment-seeking Hispanic outpatients (N = 70). Significantly more subjects with an anxiety or affective disorder plus ataque reported a history of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or or a substance-abusing caretaker than those with psychiatric disorder but no ataque. In some Hispanic individuals, ataque may represent a culturally sanctioned expression of extreme affect dysregulation associated with childhood trauma. Patients with ataque de nervios should receive a thorough traumatic history assessment.