Western Culture and What is Wrong with our Mental Health System


This photo speaks volumes to what is wrong with our Mental Health System. We treat too many things as illnesses rather than experiences of life.


“We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave.

They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again.

Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.”

~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.


My cousin’s husband shot and killed himself years ago. My cousin had been cooped up in a room, resting in bed and being served soup and tea, for days. I came and sat with her a few days later and she was sad and bored and wanted a distraction. We went outside in the sunlight of the porch and started playing backgammon and my Aunt, bless her heart, went into hysterics because it wasn’t proper mourning. Really?

Could you imagine being forced to talk about it, over and over again, with no relief?

Of course you could. It’s what we expect.

40 thoughts on “Western Culture and What is Wrong with our Mental Health System

  1. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual(DSM) used to have about 10 classifications of general mental disorders. In recent years list grown to 350. Spoze helps pharm pills companie$ and mental health provider job$ and income but does not help people.


    1. I so agree with that. Granted, I take meds that work, but there is so much more I need to stay healthy that they don’t teach or demonstrate in contemporary western therapies.


  2. Talking about things does help, but you’re right that people should get out and live. At the very least, take some time away from things that enhance the depression. I think too many people expect those with depression to muscle through, take medication, or get a sudden epiphany that will clear the problem. Strange how it’s either no help or total suffocation when it comes to this.


    1. Back in the eighties, when there was money in mental health, there was music therapy, dance therapy, art therapy and so much more in the way of taking groups into the community to remember how to live. Then the medical model came along and all the rest was forgotten.


      1. Yeah. It gets weird when people are quick to suggest drugs too. Some days it comes off as the request being made for the asker instead of the one with depression. Almost like ‘I can’t deal with you, so I want you to get medicated’.


      2. My daughter’s kindergarten teacher did that. At her request I took my daughter in to a doctor and he prescribed something for her behavior. Next time I went to pick her up she was sitting in a corner drooling. I said, “No way!” That teacher needed to figure her out. I took her off of it. She graduated high school Summa Cum Laude.


      3. Reminds me of when I took a medicine for upper respiratory issues. I was told the side-effects weren’t that bad. I managed to get insomina and vivid nightmares at the same time. Needless to say I was given something else. Not the same as the ‘brain meds’ that people I know are on. I’m still trying to fight against going on those.


      4. Not to hijack your post, but this happened with my son. When he was little, he was ALL boy. He was being raised by his great grandparents, and great grandma was just SURE he had ADHD. At FIVE he was put on medication. Not only did the chemicals screw him up, but the idea that something was “wrong” with him did all kinds of mental and psychological damage. We adopted him when he was nine, and I immediately went to alternative/natural treatments, just to deal with the ADD that the DRUGS created. He does very well now, just with fish oil and coffee, but he still deals with self-motivation and I believe it’s because he was told for so many years that he wasn’t capable.


      5. He’s quite bright, and does well in school (I homeschool, and working at his own pace is hugely beneficial for him), but I can’t help but think that he would be unstoppable if he had never been told “you can’t, but it’s not your fault.” Not that he still can’t reach his full potential; I fully believe he can. He just has a lot of obstacles to overcome to get there. I’m glad your daughter did so well, and had such an involved mom to get involved and advocate for her well-being.


  3. I’m not entirely sure what the current model of mental health is, but my previous therapist always aided me in doing things despite my depression, similar to negating the urge to isolate. I purposely avoid psychiatry because they don’t seem to be as helpful. But I guess that’s one of the reasons for my choice in career path, hoping to fix the mess that is western psychotherapy.


    1. I was telling Charles how it used to be in the eighties. People got well, long term, not just for the short haul. They were taught ways to cope. Now it seems they want to give everyone the same pills and send them on their way. There is no addressing the psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of healing….just the physiological. Insurance doesn’t want to pay for what is truly needed. They expect underfunded outpatient clinics to work that magic. Good luck! We need more people truly committed to making a difference.


  4. You are so right! Singing, music, dancing, and for me, walking out in the fresh air in the beautiful countryside, all these experiences are uplifting and inspirational and help you learn to live again. I have been very depressed in the past, about 18 months after my daughter was born. She has a rare syndrome, and it was only then that the enormity of how she would impact on the rest of my life kicked in. It took monumental effort and determination to fight my way out of it, and I got no help. I dont want to trivialise it. In themselves, these activities are not cures. But they go a long way towards helping you rebuild your life.


    1. They certainly do…miles and miles. To feel the joy in living again.

      God forbid, though, someone coming into my aunt’s home and seeing my cousin actually enjoying herself in the wake of her husband’s tragic death. That would have been so wrong by our standards.


      1. Yes I know what you mean. Death is for the dead… the living have to go on living. Some people forget that. The person left behind is already suffering enough.


  5. What you described sounds more like punishment for something a person has no control over. Dance, sing, rejoice even if it’s only a reprieve from inner pain. Of course, some people may not feel up to dancing etc. but they should be given the opportunity to rejoice they are alive. I don’t know much about health care. I only know about the sad and bad things about it.


  6. Exercise, getting outside, sunshine–all of these release endorphins and boost our serotonin levels. Exercise alone has been found to be as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. I think the Rwandan man is spot-on. Exercise, go for a walk outside, and then go talk to your therapist if needed. They all work in conjunction with each other.


  7. I loved the remarks by the African gentleman, as well as the joy of the dancers. Life is a short dance; best to try to maneuver through it as joyfully as one can.

    Um… the margarita was a good idea too… 😀


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