Treating Depression with Tribal Wisdom
If we want to treat depression, we can learn a lot from community rituals involving dance and drumming.
Chances are that you, or someone you know, has experienced being depressed. It is estimated that on average, 1 in 6 people will experience depression at some stage in their lives, and it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide. The symptoms can range from minor to very severe.
Feeling the love, support and compassion of an entire community can be a very effective way to address depression. There’s a lot to be learned by treating depression with tribal wisdom from traditional cultures, rather then the strictly ‘individual’ way of western medicine.
Andrew Solomon had suffered from depression for many years. In his attempts to better understand this illness, his journey has taken him across the globe, interviewing many people who share his affliction.
His research took him as far as West Africa where he participated in a Senegalese Ndeup ritual, a tribal ritual for depression, and concluded that it was probably better than many forms of group therapy that he attended in the US. He describes the Ndeup as an astonishing experience, even though he didn’t believe in the animist principles behind it. Moreover, he was incredibly touched and exhilarated that all of those people had been gathered together, cheering for him.
The dancing element of the Ndeup ritual
African Rituals that are effective in treating Depression
Many years later Solomon discussed his experience with a Rwandan man, still unable to entirely describe which essential elements of the ritual so significantly lifted his spirits. The Rwandan man explained that they have similar rituals in East Africa and, in comparing these rituals with standard western psychotherapy, makes it clear why the African rituals are effective in lowering depression:
“You know, we had a lot of trouble with Western mental health workers, especially the ones who came here right after the genocide. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sunshine… which is, after all, where you begin to feel better. There was no drumming or music to get your blood flowing again – when you’re depressed and low you need to have your blood flowing. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to lift you up and bring you back to joy.