Today I learned that the Arabic word for mental illness has the same etymology as the Arabic word for evil spirits. This has an unfortunate effect on how the mentally ill are perceived in the Middle East.
Language is an odd thing. It enables you to express your innermost thoughts and feelings. BUT it almost guarantees that the thoughts and feelings you express have been totally shaped by the language itself. In the words of comedian Lenny Bruce,
“Believe me, I’m not profound, this is something that I assume someone must have laid on me, because I do not have an original thought. I am screwed. I speak English. That’s it. I was not born in a vacuum. Every thought I have belongs to somebody else.”
— Lenny Bruce, quoted on Rakes Progress: Lenny Bruce is not afraid
So what’s happening is that as long as the doctors use that old-fashioned word to describe mental illness, demon-possessed the mentally ill will remain.
Arabs don’t have a monopoly on superstition though. The following TinyUrl will take you to a google search for “mental illness exorcism.”