We Should Rethink Mental Illness: Are We Drugging Our Prophets and Healers?

How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?”  ~Bob Marley

Our mental health care system is breaking people. We have no room for the sacred, only normal.

The narrow range of accepted behaviour and emotion expected from us is more restricting than most people realize. That is, until we experience beyond it. Until we’re judged. Until we don’t fit in. Until we’re told we need to fix ourselves.

I’m not sure how I ended up stumbling into this article today, but you know how these things happen. It’s called What a Shaman Sees in a Mental Hospital.

The symptoms we commit people for, Dr. Somé’s village recognizes as marks of a healer. They honour, respect, and nourish the very same patterns that we condemn, isolate, and drug.

The article is worth a read. To be honest, I have a hard time with his explanations for why he says mental illness happens, but that is of no importance. I don’t need to believe how he says it happens to agree with him about the fact that it is happening.

We’re taking people with a completely different range of perception and calling it wrong.

We’re weeding out our geniuses. We’re killing off our prophets. We’re drugging our messiahs.

Were she alive today, Sylvia Plath would be on anti-depressants. Salvador Dali would be on anti-psychotics. Beethoven would be on Lithium. Newton would likely be committed as well as heavily drugged for his multiple, pervasive mental illness symptoms.

If you’re thinking that medications would have decreased these people’s suffering while allowing their gifts and talents to be explored, I’d suggest to get on Google and look up some common mental illness medications, their symptoms, and their side effects.

The real tragedy is that, in Dr. Somé’s village, though they respect the “mentally ill” healers’ journeys, they take precautions knowing that these people require an incredible amount of support through this time.

How unfortunate that, in our society, those who refuse to take medications don’t have anything to catch them or support them. There’s no group of people willing to support and honour their new abilities. No one to celebrate their experiences. No one to listen to them.

There’s only the pain and the desire to get rid of it. Hence, the ledge. So what do we do? Where do we go? 

How can we turn our mental health centers into places of healing and growth, rather than confinement and apathy? How can we nurture the experiences of people who are perceiving differently from us in such a way that they can become stable, and we can become wiser for having taken their perspective?

How can we all come together and build the sort of society that Dr. Somé speaks of, the sort of society that already exists somewhere—one that respects people, no matter what they act, look, or feel like?

Most importantly, how can we take mental illness activism past this stage it’s stuck at now where we say “it’s not like cancer, don’t say get over it,” but the ones who go through it still suffer, still perceive it all as “bad,” still face a lower quality of life? Basically, how can we stop treating these experiences as diseases and start accepting them as gifts?

How can we recognize the healers in those who are, themselves, healing?

How can we all come together and make a world where we connect from our deepest core, from our interconnected, limitless potential? How can we learn to see beyond differences of habit and thought into the beautiful center that resides within each of us?

How can the scientists, the spiritualists, the philosophers, and the dancers all come together and speak of their unique perspectives, each learning from the other? How can the manic, the depressed, the bored, the generous, and the needy come together, dropping their labels, and learn from each other?

How can each human life be allowed to matter? How can we build a world where no one has to rot in a hospital or a cage? How can we build a world where everyone simply wants to be good and do good? How can we stop arguing, for a second, so that we can hear ourselves agreeing?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t. But this is not really about answers. This is about questions.

I read in an old book once: “Confusion is the beginning of wisdom.” Not knowing is the beginning of knowing.

This article was written by Vironika Tugaleva.

Vironika Tugaleva is a life coach, digital nomad, and award-winning author of two books (The Love Mindset and The Art of Talking to Yourself). She spends her days writing, dancing, singing, running, going on adventures, doing yoga, and having long conversations. You’re welcome to start reading The Art of Talking to Yourself.