What if I told you that mental illness is not what we think it is?

I’m sick. At least that’s what they tell me. My psychiatrist gives me the same speech while writing out a new prescription for a stronger medication. The pills I took the previous month just didn’t seem to curb the abnormal tendencies, and I was having meltdowns in public. I guess this time the dosage will make me act like everyone else… maybe.

I bet you’ve heard this before, whether it’s you or a friend, maybe it’s even a family member who struggles to adapt to being different. I’m talking about mental illness.

Illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia have all seemed like wild cards, transforming over time and always raging against the meds. That’s why the meds have to be adjusted, right?


I used to think this was rational, but I read something recently which made me angry at this so-called rational regimen. I discovered, by reading, that the Eastern culture thinks differently about mental illness as opposed to the Western World.

We in the Western culture view radical differences such as schizophrenia as illnesses, disabilities and diseases. Many Eastern cultures, on the other hand, view these states of mind as pathways to enlightenment. Now how about that!

Which one sounds more appealing to you?

Dagara People

Dr. Malidoma Patrice Some, a shaman of the Dagara people, believes that mental illness is the pathway to becoming a healer, or conduit of good news from the spirit world.

When we experience symptoms of mental illness, according to Some, we should not be medicated but rather guided and treated in a way to help the messenger come through. We are actually being used as vessels for spirits to speak through, but sometimes multiple spirits at one time. This opposing force is what causes the pain of mental illness.

Some says,

“Mental disorder, behavioral disorder of all kinds signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field.”

In the Dagara tradition, the mentally ill are treated by reconciling spirits of opposing worlds – the world of the spirit and the village and people. When the connection is fortified, the person affected can then serve as a bridge to help others become healed by the spiritual energies.

When the healer is born, the crisis is over and the “mental illness”, as the Western culture calls it, is no more. It seems like the Dagara people have a firm hold on mental illness and see it as a gift rather than a curse. How fascinating.

I think we have it all wrong

While visiting the United States in 1980, Dr. Some was shocked by how doctors, at a mental ward, dealt with mental illness. He realized quickly that mental illness was treated like something that had to be stopped, subdued by medication. It was seen from a pathology standpoint.

Some also noticed there were many spiritual entities hovering around the patients causing discord. The screaming and chaos of the ward forced Dr. Some to leave. He was devastated by how the Western world treated, whom he felt, were special people with elevated gifts of sensitivity.

Looking again at the incompetency of medications, you can see that when spirits are trying to contact the living, and they are relentless, medications just cannot thwart the birth of the healer.

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