For my advanced writing class (the last one before graduation, hooray!) I've chosen to do a research project on mental illness and its treatment in developing countries. Here's the first bit. I'll probably post the whole thing, with revisions, of course, as I go along. I'd be interested in any feedback, research leads (props to my friend William for a great one earlier today), general commentary... Here goes nothing.
I never learned exactly what was ‘wrong’ with Djarri, but I suspect her village didn’t either, and probably didn’t have the resources to diagnose, let alone treat, whatever psychological disorder she suffered from. Memories of Djarri and other victims of diseases like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, however, have stayed with me since my return to the so-called ‘developed’ world. What could be done, I wondered, for these individuals whose suffering had so deeply marked me? The interplay between culture and medicine becomes especially tricky when it comes to mental health – that much became clear in the five short weeks I spent in Senegal. Further, even if we can find culturally appropriate ways to deal with mental illnesses in developing countries, the initiatives we push for have to be sustainable, a word that has become so fashionable in development circles for very good reasons. In civil society as well as in academic circles, aid for individuals with disabilities – physical and psychological – is so commonly seen as a luxury poorer countries simply can’t afford. And finally, how can ‘development stakeholders’ – academic development jargon for ‘any group or individual even remotely involved with the problems of development, be that governments, NGOs, members of civil society, research institutions, etc.’ – generate interest and awareness for the need for mental health care? Does anyone care enough to do anything for the very vulnerable, but from a utilitarian standpoint not very societally useful, mentally handicapped in the developing world?
I'm not out to answer any of these questions directly or fully, but rather raise awareness and push and prod the problem in a context accessible to us plebes (don't mind the alliteration). Most of the dialogue on the issue happens at a pretty stratified level, in academic research groups or lengthy and detailed reports by the World Health Organization, in scholarly journals, etc. Here I'd like to distill some of the central conflicts to help folks like us understand some of the complexities of - and more importantly the value and feasibility of - mental illness treatment in low- and middle-income countries."