mental illness

On one of the forums I frequent, they are discussing mental illness and how to not so much treat is but how to talk about it. This forum is focused on herbalism in the Wise Woman Tradition and therefore they put much more stock in a person’s “story” and what we call “story medicine” than most people are used to. These are my thoughts on “mental illness.”

Mental illness, as well as the more mundane physical illnesses, do not manifest in a vacuum. Treatment for and judgment of the illness is very much part of the culture/society in which the person lives. How the person is viewed, how they are able to act out or not is dependent on how the society in which they live tolerates deviations from the norm. And the norm itself is defined by that society and that definition is changeable.

Story medicine is so important for those suffering what is considered to be “mental illness” but our particular society distrusts and in many instances dismisses the patient’s story as invalid and/or irrelevant. It’s really quite difficult and scary when you think of how arbitrary it all can be.

Some societies accept things like schizophrenia differently. In shamanic circles the schizophrenic may be revered as a soothsayer. In times past, they burned them as witches. In our society, we medicate, shock, operate. We used to lock them away in back wards, but now thanks to Reagan era reforms, we boot them out on the sidewalk and feed them in soup kitchens.

Even conditions like ADD and ADHD have changed over my lifetime. When I was growing up, kids were full of piss and vinegar. When my children were little, they were “hyper.” Now, they are medicated and not only that, almost all children who are more active than the school systems’ tolerate, are diagnosed and treated. This is not to say that some are truly suffering and in need of meds, it’s just to point out that over the course of just 3 generations, the whole landscape of what is “acceptable” child behavior has changed. What is within the normal bounds is different than it was when I was small and even different from when my boys were small.

It’s a very interesting and difficult thing to navigate, mental health. What I see as intolerance by many is really nothing more than caution and fear to tread in places that we simply don’t feel equipped to handle. As Wise Women, I do hope that we can find and promote a more humane way to cherish those outside the bounds of “normal” and truly listen to their stories.

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