Do indigenous peoples hold some answers to treat mental illness, asks Lori Morrison?
There is no such thing as the term “ mental illness ” in many indigenous cultures. In these cultures, all illnesses have a spiritual foundation in the energetic body that relates to positive and negative spiritual energies that are a part of our existence. Mental disorders are viewed as spiritual emergencies that require support from sages in the tribal community who understand the connection we have to the spirit realm. The ability to hear voices can be seen as a calling to spiritual work, so it is important to distinguish between what is and what is not a calling. Being able to recall things from a separate reality can be a gift if the voices can be corralled into an appropriate place of understanding.
A problem in the developed world is that we are not taught about the possibility that psychic phenomena exist; in fact, people who profess that they have psychic abilities – with the exception of a few celebrity psychics on TV – are generally considered crazy. Hearing voices? Perceiving other people’s thoughts? These are often diagnosable conditions.
There is an exploding discussion of mental health, with over 50 million people in the United States – one out of four – now diagnosed with a mental disorder. Seventy-five percent of those who have had an experience of severe mental illness consider themselves to be highly spiritual which is a curious statistic. The psychiatric world has to allow for the startling possibility that maybe some diagnoses of mental illness can be attributed to spiritual awakenings.
Studies have shown that many of the mystical symptoms of a schizophrenic are the same for someone who receives a shamanic calling. Joseph Campbell the author of The Power of Myth described it this way, ‘The shaman is the person, male or female, who has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward. It’s a kind of schizophrenic crack-up. The whole unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it. This shamanic experience has been described many, many times. It occurs all the way from Siberia right through the Americas down to Tierra del Fuego. Hence working with sufferers of schizophrenia from a shamanic angle can be helpful, since the shaman has in all likelihood experienced similar experiences to those of the schizophrenic.’
Walking the Thin Line
In the view of indigenous shamans around the world, mental illness can mean the
birth of a healer, as often that person can be in the process of becoming a medicine man with connections to the spiritual world. This ancient process could inspire us to consider non-scientific views of mental illness by understanding the mental characteristics of a shaman that walks a thin line of insanity and bliss.
As psychoanalyst and anthropologist Dr. Géeza Róoheim, Ph.D., states in his book The Origin and Function of Culture (Nervous and Mental Disease Monographs. No. 69) ‘In every primitive tribe, we find the medicine man in the center of society and it is easy to show that the medicine man is either neurotic or a psychotic, or at least his art is based on the same mechanisms as a neurosis or a psychosis.’ Shamans are those who can navigate into the depths of the psyche and cause a metamorphosis of energy that surrounds the soul in healing.
With a growing mental health crisis in the America and the UK perhaps it is time to investigate these states of being, and apply this knowledge to the modern versions of care. There are countless stories of patients who have had successful recoveries because there has been a proper diagnosis of these states of being. Further studies can generate greater respect for the use of rituals and the development of a spiritual life and perhaps abandon the skeptical scientific perspective and instead embrace eastern and mystical philosophiesthat support a balanced mind.
I do not wish to overly promote the idea that indigenous wisdom holds the ultimate key to understanding all mental illness, nor do I condemn western treatment, since not every indigenous person in crisis becomes a shaman. There can be, however, opportunities for healing, by connecting people to nature and alternative treatments and taking into consideration that there is a transformation taking place instead of a disease with no cure. Indigenous tribes also provide compelling evidence that the best place to handle mental illness is in a community of family and support groups similar to a tribal environment. With a built-in community sufferers can feel a sense of connection and find a deeper personal understanding of themselves. Finding a group of like-minded people who can support each other through the process of navigating the labels of mental illness can be extremely helpful.
More and more people are striving to live a more grounded life and are being driven more by their intuition and self-empowerment. With the emergence of the compelling facts of quantum physics and its validation of the mind – body connection to our health, perhaps a more prosperous life is obtained through a shift in our view of treating mental illness. By seeing transformation as a flowering of our consciousness into a greater connection to the natural world instead of a sign of suffering we can embrace it as an inner journey and change it from crisis to connection.
About the author: Lori Morrison is an award winning author, her latest book Lori: The Disintegration of My Ordinary Reality is out now.