No beautiful intro. No formal introduction or opening paragraph. Religion is hell on mental illness. Full stop.
Historically, and currently, even, religious groups have chalked up behaviors and symptoms associated with mental illnesses as being evil, demonic, etc. There are a ridiculous amount of articles available in a simple Google search, advising faith leaders on how to tell the difference between a demonic possession and schizophrenia.
I’m going to pause to let that sink in.
No, really, did it sink in? I’m hoping so, because many studies have been done regarding schizophrenia and the physiological changes in one’s body. Here’s a medical abstract from 2005, stating that there are, indeed, structural differences in the brains of persons afflicted with schizophrenia. Yet, there are still articles as recent as May of this year (2017) that give advice to pastors and other religious leaders on how to tell the difference between schizophrenia and demonic possession. Scarier, still, is that many of these sites have names that can fool you at first glance: mentalillnesspolicy.org, schizophrenia.com, and so on.
The same confusion surrounds an entire host of mental illnesses. If you’re depressed, you must not have enough God/Jesus/Allah in your life. If you experience bipolar disorder, you’ve got the devil in you! If you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, obviously, if you prayed hard enough, God would erase that condition from your soul!
Come on, now. Really.
While I don’t think praying over any specific condition is necessarily wrong, I also don’t believe in completely tossing science and medical research out the window, in favor of concepts written multiple millennia ago.
I’m keeping this piece short deliberately, because I’m encouraging anyone reading this to do some of their own research. Just type “demonic possession or schizophrenia” into Google (or Bing, whatever), or try “mental illness and religion.” Do some of your own reading into the subject, and come to your own conclusions. But, please read both sides. Read from the spiritual or religious aspect, and read medical evidence, from legitimate medical sources.
We need to stop castigating people who have legitimate medical conditions, be they physical, or mental. We need to stop shaming those who are ill, and telling them that if they pray/meditate/read religious texts hard enough, they’d be better, and that their afflictions are somehow the result of their lack of real belief. People of faith, we must do better.
**Featured image by Mochipa**