In our modern age, all of us have been touched in one way or another by mental illness, either directly or indirectly. Depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, and an ever growing list of psychotic disorders and addictions are today rampant in our modern industrialised world. Most likely a direct result of our “keeping up with the Kardashians” lifestyle and ultra competitive, capitalist “greed is good” world.
Whilst we may never be able to go back to more simpler times, what we can do is learn from the societies who still live a simpler life. Especially in the area of mental health, where we enter the mystical realm of the Shaman and shamanic plant medicine.
After the false start of the 1950s–1970s psychedelic research, today cutting edge science has learned from the mistakes of the past and is once more entering the realm of the Shaman, this time (by necessity) in a far more measured and scientific way. The results of which will not only save lives, but show us a way that all of us can live happier, less stressful and healthier lives.
It is repeated time and again in the science of anthropology that indigenous societies with little to no contact with modern civilisation simply do not have the same mental health issues that we do in our modern world.
Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, who conducted research in New Guinea, described it as “an unusually good country in which to do epidemiologic research because census records for even most remote villages are remarkably good.” After examining these records, he found, “there was over a twentyfold difference in schizophrenia prevalence among districts; those with a higher prevalence were, in general, those with the most contact with western civilisation.”
In reviewing other research, Torrey concluded: “Almost all observers who looked for psychosis or schizophrenia in technologically undeveloped areas of the world agreed that it was uncommon. The striking feature is the remarkable consensus that insanity (in the early studies) and schizophrenia (in later studies) were comparatively uncommon prior to contact with European-American civilisation.” Interestingly, in traditional cultures the people we would call ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘insane’ often become the Shaman or Medicine men/women that go on to heal and counsel their people.
The reasons for our mental maladies are many (and worthy of an entire article in their own right), but the main reason seems to be the level of coercion (with the threat of violence) in our modern society versus those of the traditional. In other words, from cradle to the grave we are taught to fear, we are controlled by fear, and have fear reinforced on a daily basis by the mainstream media.
To many indigenous peoples, even the supposed majority rule that most westerners call democracy is problematically coercive as it results in the minority feeling resentful. Roland Chrisjohn, member of the Oneida Nation of the Confederacy of the Haudenausaunee (Iroquois) and author of The Circle Game, points out that for his people it is deemed valuable to spend whatever time necessary to achieve consensus so as to prevent such resentment. By the standards of western civilisation, this is highly inefficient. “Achieving consensus could take forever!” exclaimed an attendee of a talk given by Chrisjohn, who responded, “What else is there more important to do?”
Unfortunately, we in the modern world simply cannot wait for such a consensus utopia to happen by itself, and accept that our modern world is exactly how the powers-that-be want it to be. That is the entire point of having power to begin with. Our modern way of life is literally killing so many of us, and the natural world around us, whilst the one percent at the top get to live their lives of luxury, at our and the world’s expense.