Mental Health in India

Madan Gopal Das - August 10, 2010 2:08 pm
Gauravani Dasa - August 10, 2010 6:34 pm

Interesting comments from readers of the article:


This story is a reflection of the prevailing Western ideology, indeed a form of colonialism, in which, apparently, NPR actively participates, along with the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) and the Western psychiatric establishment. The idea is that only Western categories of mental or emotional distress are valid; others are "cultural illness." Of course, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and other categories are just as culturally constructed as spirit possession is in India. Correlatively, Western psychologists, emotional health counselors, an psychoanalysts are no more capable of understanding or addressing the needs of those in India expereincing spirit possession as are the indigenous healers in India capable of understanding and addressing the problems of Americans experiencing anorexia, PTSD, or other peculiarly culturally embedded forms of psychological distress.
The reporter's bias that only psychiatrists are the providers of appropriate mental health care is offensive and promotes the medical model that only medication can help those with mental health issues. As a mental health clinician for 28 years working primarily with trauma, I would like to point out that most, not all, psychiatrists diagnose and prescribe medications and do not provide other types of therapy. Counselors, therapists, social workers etc. provide psychotherapy for the vast majority of people seeking help. Culturally appropriate healers and shamans can in fact help certain conditions and situations that are based in cultural beliefs. For severe illnesses like schizophrenia, combinations of medication and therapy or healing can be effective. A pill is not the only answer as the American Medical/Psychiatric Associations would have us believe. A holistic approach to mental health, physical health, and alliances between mental health providers, healers, and doctors is often more helpful than the narrow view presented in this story.
This is a very poignant issue actually, and the journalist, as usual, hasn't really captured it. What we have here are two cultures in competition because of globalization. The psychiatric culture, like the larger western medical culture, claims to be the only VALID system for curing disease. In fact, disease runs rampant in the West as it does in most places with or without western medicine. Just consider the skyrocketing rates of mental illness in a place like the USA. Now in India we don't/can't really know the real rates of mental illness, but everyone knows that it is increasing with modernization. India's psycho-social system function from a completely different basis than Judeo-christian culture, so we shouldn't assume that the dominant system elsewhere is worth a dime there. From what I have seen, the traditional systems of healing psychological problems in India work much better FOR INDIANS, than western psychiatry works for western peoples. Psychological health is all about being integrated with the psycho-social world in which one lives, therefore it is just bigoted to suggest that Indians are lacking something in the realm of mental health care.