It is interesting to see that no traditional culture looked at those traits as disease or impairment. People affected were regarded as different, yes, but they were still considered “normal.” Their atypical behavior was part of the grand scheme of the societal structure. And, who has the right to define “normal”? Nowadays, evidence-based healthcare relies heavily on statistical analysis of a collected data. Lennard Davis argues that the use of statistics, which began in the 1800s by eugenicists, aimed, and in most cases is still aiming, at establishing the “normal distribution” of human beings in an attempt to reduce deviation from the norm. This idea of the norm in itself is a tyranny that ignores many aspects of the human experience trying to fit the entire population into well-defined boxes.
Even the neurotransmitter theory, it is just that, a theory. We know that dopamine is elevated in people with schizophrenia and that serotonin is low in people suffering from depression. But, we don’t know whether it is a cause or an effect: Is the elevated dopamine level causing the schizophrenia, the bipolar or the psychosis, or is it caused by them? And, is the reduced serotonin level causing the depression or is it caused by it? No one really knows.
The human brain is way more complicated than our neurotransmitter or neurobiological model of reality. People experiencing those symptoms have always been assimilated into society. They were “different,” but still “normal.” They were atypical, but still functional. They performed specific roles that no “normal” person can do. Like shamans in native cultures, Joan of Arc in France, and Al-Hallaj in Sufi history, if any of them were to be presented to our modern conventional medical model, they would have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Yet, at their time and in their culture, they were very special, even gifted individuals and highly esteemed at times.
Joseph Polimeni, a British psychiatrist and author of the book Shamans Among Us, believes that “people with schizophrenia are the modern manifestation of prehistoric tribal shamans.” Nevertheless, he affirms that he still treats his patients within the conventional biopharmacological model, because, we simply have no other alternatives. For those people to be assimilated into society and for them to lead a functional life, our whole social structure needs to be changed. Dr. Gabor Maté, the renowned Canadian psychiatrist, sees that a person with schizophrenia in a tribal culture holds a better chance of survival and well-being than one following the Western medical model. Our view on mental illness cannot be removed from the person’s context and culture. Our Western materialistic and individualistic society focuses on achievements and possessions cutting off emotional, social, and spiritual needs, which, according to Maté, separates us from ourselves and paves the road for pathology. Unfortunately, those ancient cultural and tribal modes of life do not exist anymore. They have been crushed under the weight of industrialism and individualism. The nuclear family is not enough nor is the extended family -that still occasionally exists in some communities- to assimilate those individuals’ needs. The whole societal model does not accept or tolerate anyone who is “different.” Sebastian Junger, in his book Tribe, notes how history has never witnessed such high rates of mental illness. As opposed to the traditional tribal culture where everyone is involved in a meaningful community role and purpose, modern Western culture, he adds, and I totally agree, made us feel un-necessary and unimportant, which is one of the main reasons behind modern-day mental disorders.
I totally acknowledge that in many cases, those individuals could pose substantial risk on society. They could be violent and even dangerous. But, how do we know that this violence is not triggered by violent media, movies, and video games that we, as a society, are bombarded with on a daily basis? How do we know that this violence is not caused by nutrients deficiency from our genetically manipulated and heavily sprayed food, or by chemical pollution from our toxin-loaded environment, or by viral vulnerability from our highly compromised immune defence?
I believe we are messing with a highly precious gift that God has bestowed upon us, our brain. This highly sophisticated neural system was supposed to be a tool that helps us read “the signs on the horizons and within our souls” (Q. 41: 53), the signs that show us the way to the Truth, to our Creator. It was supposed to be a tool that helps us align our innate heart and soul knowledge of Him (our Fitrah) with our logical, analytical understanding of ourselves, our world, and our life meaning and purpose. This highly precious gift has been corrupted and damaged. It has been confused and disconnected from its source.
I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I honestly can’t envision hope in the near future. This is not because the answer is difficult or untenable, but rather because we are looking for answers in all the wrong places. If we are to effectively find answers to the rising rates of psychosis, mental illness and all chronic diseases for that matter, we need a paradigm shift. In the modern Western biomedical model, the scientific research is still based on and undergirded by the Cartesian-Newtonian dualistic, linear, and reductionist approach to life. This view “not only presents an inaccurate vision of human existence but also contributes to the disease of modern society.” All research concerning our health must conform to the evidence-based, statistical “scientific” model that highly overlooks the multifactorial nature of causation (instead they focus on linear causation); the interconnectedness of mind, body, and soul (instead they see life through the dualistic Cartesian lens of separation); and the interrelated holistic nature of life (versus the isolation, compartmentalization, and individualization view of modern thinking).
In the 1970s, William Dembski introduced his idea of Intelligent Design in an attempt to intersect science and theology. The Intelligent Design theory relies on scientific research while acknowledging the Divine action and order. He advocated broadening our understanding of scientific evidence to include metaphysical first principles and include thoughts, feelings, relationships, and holistic view of life. His theory demonstrates that reinstating the bridge between science and theology can reinvigorate the ethical stream and promote the flourishing of human life. I believe we can make a difference if we start with even the tiniest step towards re-connecting:
- Re-connecting with our pure uncorrupted, unadulterated soul
- Re-connecting with our Creator
- Re-connecting with our life meaning and purpose
- Re-connecting with our family, community, and society
- Re-connecting with our roots and tradition
- Re-connecting with our earth and all God’s creation
Sufis teach that if our life journey “appears to move through time and distance, that is not that we can eventually reach God, since ‘He is with you wherever you are’ but rather ‘so that He can cause [us] to see His signs’ that are always there, ‘on the horizons and within [our] souls,’” those signs that lead us to Him. We need to stop ignoring the signs and stop messing with the precious tool God gave us in order for us to heed those signs.
 Daniel Nettle. Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity, and Human Nature (Oxford University Press, 2002)
 Davis, L. J. (2013). The Disability Studies Reader. (4th ed.). New York: Routledge.
 Kelly Brogan, A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives (Harper Wave, 2016) and Craighead, W. Edward. Miklowitz, David J., and Craighead Linda W. Psychopathology: History, Diagnosis, and Empirical Foundations (3rd ed.). Hoboken: Wiley, 2017.
 Gabor Maté, The Myth of Normal (2016). From YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_j5mmBa4mw (accessed October 30, 2017).
 Gabor Maté, The Myth of Normal.
 Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (New York: Harpercollins Publishers, 2016).
 Epperly, B. G. (2000). Prayer, Process, and the Future of Medicine. Journal of Religion and Health, 39 (1), 23-37.
 Dembski, W. (1999). Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
 ʿArabī, The Meccan Revelations.