Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thoughts from Bangalore, India: The East Teaching the West in Mental Health

When discussing global mental health, the conversation often focuses on whether psychiatrists can practice outside of their cultural context. What we sometimes forget is that psychiatric illness is organic illness of the brain, affecting equally large percentages of the world population from nation to nation. Illnesses such as bipolar disorder, autism, depression, OCD, schizophrenia and other mental diseases occur beyond cultural boundaries and they deserve a global conversation.  We know that Western thought and philosophy in this area is only about 150 years old; this begs the question of how ancient civilizations effectively treated mental illness.

Through my Partners Center of Expertise grant, I’ve been involved in some psychiatric cultural studies at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANS), a central government research institute pushing forward the fields of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience in India. Here, they have an Advanced Center of Yoga where they are building modules of yoga postures to treat various mental illnesses. In modern society, yoga has been considered a type of exercise, but traditional yoga born and propagated throughout India, is a multifaceted way of life used to help practitioners increase their self awareness, flexibility in thought, and feelings of security. It focuses on a holistic sense of health, a beneficial perspective in mental illness. The Advanced Center for Yoga at NIMHANS is running multiple studies in yoga and has recently published a supplement in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. This describes multiple controlled studies that show yoga improves quality of life and sleep in elderly, has antidepressant affects on the general public, and improves symptoms of ADHC, psychosis, dementia, and memory. The center has made yoga a standard therapeutic intervention and I have been lucky to be invited to experience the clinical treatment of patients here.

While the focus for my global health project is on cultural contexts in diagnostic practices of academic psychiatrists, I wanted to highlight the yoga center in the blog. It is a perfect example of why the study of psychiatric disorders should be global and why communication and teaching in global health should be a two-way street. It also highlights the need to put some thought into broadening our scope in psychiatry rather than limiting it due to cultural differences. See pictures of the Yoga Center below:
 Here is the entrance area to the Yoga Center at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience

This is a class that uses the yoga model for anxiety related illness.

Jhilam Biswas, MD


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