Blog on keynote Lewis Mehl-Madrona

By August 31, 2017 No Comments

Lewis Mehl-Madrona is a Cherokee man and a psychiatrist. It was a delight to start the morning with a greeting in traditional song. It set the scene for a talk on Indigenous culture and mental health. Early in Lewis’ career he worked as a roadie for a Medicine Man. Basically he carried their stuff and cleaned up after them.
A labour that allowed him to see how various Native American Indian cultures dealt with mental illness. While some would focus on bringing people in to their community and giving them a job, a role, a home, a community and place to be others had a Sun Dance for healing the people from addictions and other mental illnesses. And then there was the circle of family that would surround someone having psychosis for months on end.
These were the invisible mental health service of Aboriginal cultures. Lewis’
work has extended to work with Aboriginal communities here in Australia. This work with Elders saw him learn key lessons about mind and mental health. Some learning includes understanding we are created in relationships and nothing exists outside relationship – you are born in to them with care takers and without that you die. These relationships are managed through story, it is where we learn to be who we are. We absorb these stories which makes us come to certain beliefs.
Sadly today’s paradigm often dismisses Indigenous wisdom as unscientific and lacking in evidence. Yet with what he refers to as Two-Eyed seeing is where we can integrate Indigenous knowledge in to current ‘scientific’ practice. What it takes is creating ethical space between Indigenous people and the western world. There is a tribal consciousness, which means doing this together and not trying to make sense of the dominant paradigm but something we work through together.
It sounds simple and Reconciliation is a pathway to how we can make this
happen. Lewis reminded us that we inherit the trauma of our ancestors. We have science now to prove that and with effort we can find a way of seeing a healing to this trauma.
There is an invisible mental health system happening right now in our Aboriginal communities and it is working. Every culture has one and it is worth talking to Aboriginal people about their mental health. While we still have a lot of work to do here, there was some comfort to hear we are doing better at this than the United States – but the key message from Lewis is that we can and must do much better.