Written by Adeoye Oyewole - Punch, Nigeria
Most people think that psychiatry and religion have nothing in common. But the truth is that, historically, they have similar roots. The earliest psychiatrists were priests who stood their ground against inhuman treatment of the mentally challenged.
There were definite intervals in the medieval period when priests were wrongly involved in the care of the mentally ill, especially during the era of witch hunts, and when mental illness was caused by spirits that were exorcised in various ways, such as through burning, bleeding and purging.
These methods derived from the concept of spirit possession as being responsible for mental illness. However the period of renaissance intensified the humane treatment that led to the discovery of the antipsychotic drug, which is till date one of the greatest medical miracles of the early part of the 20th century.
This discovery finally put an end to speculations that the voices heard by the mentally ill belonged to the spirits that the priests were about to exorcise.
Modern psychiatry has advanced with the development of other methods, such as the use of psychological principles in the management of mental illness. Several models exist as underlying principles for psychotherapeutic intervention with enormous clinical value and advantage.
Most of the theories behind these psychotherapeutic methods derive from psychodynamic, behavioural or psychoanalytic schools of thought. The human mind is essentially the psychic manifestation of the brain but only biological in structural operations.
Issues in the upbringing and early exposure of the children to the family values are very crucial. Acquisition of the secondary forms of socialisation from peer groups through other social institutions, apart from the family, also determines the values and certain habits that may be psycho-protective, or otherwise, for the growing mind.
At this stage, culture, which is a total way of life of the people, is important by providing the template for the normal development or otherwise of the people. Sometimes, secondary socialisation becomes the template for enduring values that invariably govern the life of the adult.
According to Jean Piaget, this phase coincides with the period of adolescence where the theory of hypothetico-deductive reasoning predominates. Teenagers come up with new theories and hypothesis to displace the values they were taught when they were younger.
It is at this stage, mostly the young adult stage, that they usually commence a renewed awareness in religious pursuits. This may be possibly traced to the predominant questions that require deductive reasoning at this stage.
This is about the most vulnerable part of the life cycle to being miseducated through religion that manifests in religious extremism. Nigerians are about the most religious people in the world. Yet, they are the most unethical set of human beings concerning issues of life.
There is a big disconnect between our religion and the psychology that facilitates the common good. I suspect that certain aspects of our culture frustrate the egalitarian evolution of a sound psychology derivable from religion.
No religion teaches negative values that endanger mental health, but there are certain aspects of our cultural software that hijacks our religion and murder its inherent ennobling quality.
While literature is very clear about the positive influence of spirituality in the development of robust mental health, any religious practice that does not interrogate the narratives of a particular society will invariably find itself in the dustbin of history.
The mandate of any religion that is properly articulated and practiced ennobles the host community, uplifts the quality of life of the people and guarantees the mental health of the people. When religion is only concerned with the superficial customs, rituals and practices without the psychological products, it would have become the opium of the masses, just as observed by Karl Max several years ago, and become the signpost of mediocrity.
In an extremely religious country like ours, a good number of adherents are administered in a setting that is governed with sheer manipulation and brainwashing techniques through which their victims are goaded to live in a way that does not conform to their inner conviction.
People are railroaded into living their lives according to principles that they neither understand nor really believe in. The legalistic orientation of most of our religious systems, added to the subtle cultural endorsement of such orientation, puts majority of earnest but gullible seekers in a situation where there is dissonance between their real self and the enforced religious.
This disconnect of their psyche causes various kinds of mental illness like schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders and a host of suboptimal psychological functioning.