The Rwandan prescription for Depression: Sun, drum, dance, community. “We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better, there was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again, there was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy, there was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.” ~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.

dance community

From The Moth podcast, Notes on an Exorcism.   http://themoth.org/stories

18 thoughts on “The Rwandan prescription for Depression: Sun, drum, dance, community. “We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better, there was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again, there was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy, there was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.” ~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression.

    • Had A wild idea when I read above about “what if soldiers everywhere could come together and have a bond” Immediately envisioned soldiers from both or all sides of a conflict having a day off where they played sport. A sport where if they did not all come together as one then they all would loose. And if they did, they all would win.
      For you activists, Imagine brokering that.

      • Great idea Chris. I once read a story about a truce called between soldiers on Christmas Day in World War I. I dream of the day that soldiers lay down their arms for good and refuse to fight in these senseless wars any longer. Thanks for your comment!

  1. This is wonderful. Case in point, I had a long talk in the US with a man from Ghana who said that there was a fear of western style hospitals. The fear was related to not getting out again. “You go you die”. He said there was a preference to be with the community. They would pray and sing and dance for wellness.

    • It is nice to find people who think the same as me. This was a fantastic article. I don’t believe in going to doctors or hospitals and have healed myself through dancing and singing mantras plus plenty of sun and fresh air. These people are certainly wise an what a lovely healthy way to live.

  2. *There is healing in dance, catharsis in movement, it is such a simple, but most misunderstood concept, by those who have moved away from the primal, “nature-based” life that leads us away from our true selves….it is the act of movement, that is the opposite of stagnation…a dammed river cannot serve itself, or those down-river…RCM

  3. I believe totally in the Rwandan prescription! God’s nature (universe) and tools (music and love for one another) ministers to the heart of his people!

  4. I teach yoga at a drug and alcohol recovery center, and I see this all the time. The clients do so well when they are physically moving every day with intention and mindfulness; connecting with breath, music, and energy, and then they send them off to be on their own or to live in a separate facility where they still offer medication, they still offer group talks (2 hour sessions), and they still offer one on one therapy sessions, but essentially all and any physical movement “medicine” is cut out completely. I see repeat clients over and over and I ask them if they have been doing anything physical at all, and 100% of them say NO. They’re still going to group twice a day for 4 hours, and yacking to their therapist about how they feel shitty and want to use, but nothing is done about it to make their bodies feel better (except perhaps adding a few new prescriptions) And still movement is considered “alternative,” and sadly more and more people are believing this. We must build what we want to see built in this world. People can heal themselves through breath, movement, and energy. It is possible. It is the foundation upon which we’ve been built.

  5. I believe that this works! This combination appeals to me, that’s for sure. Just looking at this photograph makes me happy, honestly.

  6. Makes sense to me. I haven’t danced since I hurt my shoulder and my shoulder surgery. I miss it. But maybe I can get out and move slower and modify.💃

    • Good idea 🙂 I was recovering from a car accident and hadn’t danced much, but found when I did it actually did wonders to relieve my pain if I could really get into it. Best of luck with your recovery!

  7. As a mental health counselor and trauma worker, who work with folks with PTSD, I hear the wisdom in this person’s voice. For many, if not most people, the music and dance and community does wonders in casting out external experiences. However, there ARE times, even in tight communities, where some people are vulnerable to overwhelm that needs individual o small group attention and a safe container to go deep. There are power dynamics in communities where not everyone feels safe and loved. Group norms and the use of shame can prevent the full release of trauma induced freeze and fear in some bodies and psyches. Yes, western mental health professionals need to be sensitive to what communities need for their healing. There is also room, and need, for many paths to healing.

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