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"Western mental health workers" and depression

I'll skip the build-up and the ritual (it's Senegalese) and go straight to the conclusion:

He said, “You know, we had a lot of trouble with Western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide, and we had to ask some of them to leave.”

I said, “What was the problem?”

And he said, “Their practice did not involve being outside in the sun, like you’re describing, which is, after all, where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again when you’re depressed, and you’re low, and you need to have your blood flowing. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgment that the depression is something invasive and external that could actually be cast out of you again.

“Instead, they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to get them to leave the country.”

That makes a lot of sense!

I've never been affected with clinical depression, thanks to The God(ess)(es)(s) Of Your Choice, If Any, but I've been close enough to it, through SAD, that I know how overwhelmingly grateful I would be to have it "cast out," as in the story.

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hyperpolarizer's picture
Submitted by hyperpolarizer on

Bravo to the Senegalese who threw these roosters out. I don't know if dancing would work for me (I have experienced a few bouts of clinical depression, but have learned to recognize the onset and deflect the attack)-- the point is, the people who went over there and got thrown out were, a) clueless about the norms and practices of the culture they were entering, and b) almost certainly clueless about the depth of suffering and horror that the local people had experienced.

Something not recognized by people of non-African descent (which includes me, but I am married to an Afroamerican) is the fundamental importance of dance in African culture. Commentators were shocked to see mourners dancing at the Mandela obsequies; but this only shows their narrow view of dance, and what it can mean to Africans, and their descendants world wide.

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

I am somewhat convinced that depression is over prescribed and grossly over medicated and grossly overly diagnosed.
Now, to counter the blizzard of objections to my opinion, let me say; I am aware there are people seriously, clinically, depressed who need real help, however that is presented.
Depression is a normal part of a healthy life, but America is in love with happiness and thinks that is the normal state of existence; um, no it isn't, nor should it be "normal".
Depression is a challenge that everybody faces at some point in their short life.
Do not get drugged out of dealing with it; it's a call to the present. Which many of us just try to ignore. We have no cultural methodology to deal with depression left to us.

The Senegalese (apparently) and many remaining third world cultures still have those mechanisms in place.

Modern psychology and psychiatry have reduced any actual wisdom they used to have(?), to prescribing the latest anti-depressant or other legal anti-psychotic medicines.

When human suffering is treated thus; we have lost the meaning of being human, IMHO.

hyperpolarizer's picture
Submitted by hyperpolarizer on

For what it's worth, and speaking from my own experience -- some episodes of debilitating depression, but never lasting more than I day, thank God, and never medicated -- depression -- however bad it may be-- is a rational response to the situation at hand. It may not be good, but it is not, as superficial medical fashion would have it, a result of mere chemical balance.

I am not saying it's good to be depressed, but I am saying that it's not crazy, and it's certainly not because your biochemistry is messed up. (In regards to which, I in fact hold a Ph. D. in biochemistry.)