Mental illnesses require professional medical treatment November 12, 2015 — by Shreya Tumu I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a country where people with mental illnesses are treated with consideration and compassion most of the time. I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a country where people with mental illnesses are treated with consideration and compassion most of the time. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in other countries. One example is the West African country of Ghana, where the mentally ill are often sent to “prayer camps” to be chained to trees and pray and fast all day and all night, as reported in a recent New York Times story. Dorris Appiah, 52, who has bipolar disease, attended one of these camps. Appiah was sent to one of these camps in her early 20s and had to stay for five years until she showed signs of improvement. According to the Human Rights Watch, the experience was like a death sentence. One might think that these extreme cases are contained to countries with poor overall medical care. Part of the problem, however, is that some cultures, including my own, promote the view that mental illnesses are not and should not be considered legitimate afflictions. In India, people with severe mental illnesses often turn to temples and shrines rather than doctors, which, of course, cannot alleviate their symptoms. Most mental disorders are connected to biological factors, such as genetics, infections, substance abuse and prenatal damage, that can’t be cured without the help of medicine. Mental disorders have also been linked to abnormal functioning of nerve cell circuits or pathways that connect particular brain regions. Nerve cells within these brain circuits communicate with chemicals called neurotransmitters. Simply praying to God cannot change this; it requires medicine, psychotherapy or other medical procedures. India has many myths about mental illnesses that warrant dispelling because they simply are inconsistent with basic biology. Some even believe that a mental illness is only a figment of people’s imagination. The greatest barrier for many mentally disabled people in Asian cultures is the stigma against the disease. The loved ones of person with mental illnesses often don’t encourage him or her to achieve more, and this negative attitude starts to have a deep psychological effect; the victims begin to believe they are incapable. This isn’t just phenomenon in third-world countries; this negative attitude is apparent in even the most progressive countries like the U.S. Those who refuse to acknowledge mental illness as an actual medical illness are misinformed. This narrow-minded view is detrimental; mental illnesses need to be treated practically, not through prayer, discrimination or abuse.