Rethinking Mental Illness: Are We Drugging Our Prophets and Healers?

 April 10, 2018

Rethinking Mental Illness: Are We Drugging Our Prophets and Healers?

A woman who reached out to me to tell me about keeping her son, clearly exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, away from doctors and pills—the son recovering fully a year and a half of sleepless nights later.

Sam Shelley being diagnosed with bipolar and, after engaging in frequent and dedicated meditation, coming forth symptom-free and ready to help heal the world.

With all these stories in my head, it was hard to sleep. A darkness loomed over me—the darkness of a realization too painful to digest.

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.


Don’t even get me started on Jesus Christ.

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 reading Ken’s book for a sobering look at the effects of Lithium. Then, get on Google and look up some common mental illness medications, their symptoms, and their side effects.

Perhaps the drugs would have prevented some suicides, though even that is questionable (as you’ll find on your search—some medications have been linked to suicide and homicide). But suppose they had. Then we’d have extended their lifetimes while they would have faded into the background, known by few, remembered by no one.

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.