A British medical anthropologist discusses India’s multifaceted approach to mental health, and how it may be miles ahead of modern psychiatry in the United Kingdom.
On its face, Tobert’s debut analysis of the mental health practices in Eastern civilizations is a straight-ahead academic research paper, comparing and contrasting Eastern and Western philosophies and procedures as it seeks to advocate the former. In this study of the city’s mental-health practitioners and their patients, she effectively examines a system that many Westerners might erroneously regard as backward. Along the way, she makes intangible, but potentially game-changing observations. She spends a good deal of time shadowing a highly trained Calcutta psychiatrist named Dr. Basu, who routinely works in conjunction with local mystics and holy men. Although Basu is thoroughly schooled in Western-style psychiatry, his approach to treatment is highly pragmatic, unreservedly incorporating the myriad healing traditions of his homeland. “In India the use of a multiplicity of medical, alternative, complementary, religious and/or spiritual strategies to address human suffering is not controversial,” Tobert writes. “It is normal syncretic practice for people to try a plurality of treatments to address their well being.” The author also finds that this practice stems, at least in part, from a cultural view that sees mental illness as an almost entirely transitory state—and one that can be overcome. Tobert’s experiences are also satisfying as a vivid, full-fledged travelogue. Her descriptions of communal therapy sessions, and her stories of patients traveling miles through tiger-infested jungles to attend their appointments, are truly eye-opening. Her intriguing encounters with patients, who candidly reveal their struggles with depression and anxiety, reinforce the truism that the world is a lot smaller than it sometimes appears.
A cultural study that brims with humanity and intellectual curiosity.