From Psyche: “‘It began 12 years ago,’ Madhavi told me. ‘My face, hands and feet would get contorted; I would get very angry.’ From her purse, she took out tablets of clonazepam and lithium prescribed for anxiety and mood disorders by psychiatrists at one of India’s leading psychiatric facilities. ‘I took these medicines regularly,’ she said. ‘But it made no difference. The psychiatrists helped as much as they could. They even asked about all kinds of things from my childhood. But then they said there was nothing wrong with me.’
This is why Madhavi and her husband Raj, both devout middle-class Hindus, had driven six hours from Delhi to a Sufi shrine called Badaun in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Through a neighbour, they had learned that the shrine was renowned for the treatment of pagalpan (madness). And it was here, through rituals of Sufi healing, that Madhavi finally began to feel better. At Badaun, her husband said, ‘the thing revealed itself fully, who did it, what it was.’ Over the next few years, the couple from Delhi would become regular visitors to the shrine.
It may be contentious to affirm a Sufi cult of saints as a treatment for mental illness in this day and age. But as I spent time with mareez (patients) like Madhavi, I began to understand why, even in the 21st century, Sufi conceptions of illness and healing have remained helpful for many people suffering from forms of schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and other maladies. What these experiences of Sufi healing reveal are the complexities of a global mental health puzzle that has remained stubbornly unresolved for the past 50 years.”
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