Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shock Treatment Varieties for Mental Issues

I was reading this news article in The Hindu, describing a ritual where 2000 women were given whip lashes to remove "evil spirits" that possessed them. It sounds very cruel and unscientific, and speaks ill of the society. There are actually many such methods, including a place in Kerala called Chotanikkarai, where they nail the hair of insane people. Other less cruel methods include putting them under the Kutralam waterfall in Tamil nadu for a cold and swift shower.

They are not able to explain, but I think the underlying principle is to provide shock treatment, with the hope that the brain works differently (or normally!) after the shock. The nerves obviously will get triggered, and some inert ones may start functioning as well with these nasty surprises. Even psychiatrists may resort to shock treatment with electricity, so the principle and practice is not without substance. The psychiatrist will be able to explain better that it is a "mental disorder", instead of "evil spirit". Even today, it is said the brain is the least understood part of the human body, and it is not clear yet which nerves to trigger, what they control or how they work. Until we can fully explain the brain, the psychiatrist is taking a chance with electric shock, and these ritualistic "doctors" are taking a chance with their version of shock treatment - both hope that something good will happen!

Sometimes "evil spirits" denote infections like bacteria or virus. I had a relative who had high fever, and her mom took her to a country doctor who tried to ward off the fever with neem leaves, holy ash and such - again, I think the principle is to provide a setting that triggers the immune system to kill the bacteria or virus.

I don't support these approaches, but if they are largely harmless in providing hope, I think they are OK - especially when the science is not fully understood. What is clearly wrong however, is blind faith putting people in more danger. Like this homoepathy lecturer in Australia who killed his baby suffering from eczema (news) - he refused other medicines insisting only on homoepathy, and I don't think he understood how or why they work or don't work. Or worse yet, the Wisconsin parents that just prayed to God instead of calling a doctor, and let their diabetic child die (news).

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