My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
Despite my fear of being thought a reactionary racist, I cannot but help wonder why people invoke the spirit of ubuntu to stop us talking about the MInister’s health, but no one invoked this spirit when the Minister gave advice to poor HIV positive people that inevitably led to their deaths.
Once again, this seems like a selective use of “culture” to stop us asking awkward questions. Questions such as: how many people have died because of the utterances of the Minister of Health? To what degree are we all complicit in these deaths for not speaking out, for not protesting at every meeting, for not dousing our Minister in fake blood, for not making a citizens arrest?
It might upset some people that we talk about the Minister’s health while she is sick, but perhaps it is slightly more upsetting that thousands of mostly poor South Africans have died needlesly because of her.