Every society struggles to care for people with mental illness. In parts of West Africa, where psychiatry is virtually unknown, the chain is often a last resort for desperate families who cannot control a loved one in the grip of psychosis. Religious retreats, known as prayer camps, set up makeshift psychiatric wards, usually with prayer as the only intervention. Nine camps visited recently in Togo ranged from small family operations to this one, Jesus Is the Solution, by far the largest and most elaborate.
“We try to talk people out of going to the camps,” said Dr. Simliwa Kolou Valentin Dassa, Togo’s director of mental health services, “but we cannot tell them to stop if there’s no alternative.”
Any time you might feel guilty—navel gaze-ish—about the ability of the Western World to focus on and treat mental health issues, force yourself to be thankful. There are people outside of your worldview who are not nearly as fortunate.