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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Mental Illness or A Spiritual Problem

Church Pastors Dismiss Mental Illness | LiveScience [from 2008]

Researchers at Baylor Univ. have discovered that (a) most people when dealing with mental illness symptoms consult a pastor first; and (b) that most pastors tell them they have a spiritual problem and don't need to be treated by a doctor or medication.

I ran in to this not long ago with a medical professional friend whose patient was "a threat to herself" and been dealing with depression. She was hospitalized and demoralized because her pastor and church were not supportive of her getting treatment.  She didn't go to some extreme faith healing cult, but to your basic fundamentalist Baptist church in upstate New York.

This is always a tough one. Sometimes people do have a problem that resembles mental illness and it is a spiritual problem. Take for example the demonically influenced man that Jesus encountered near a graveyard in Gerasenes. Compare his symptoms to the DSM IV characteristics for schizophrenia. But does that mean all persons with those symptoms have a spiritual problem and not a mental illness?  Absolutely not.  Too many pastors are telling people dealing with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other disorders/illnesses that all they need to do is pray more, read their Bible and trust God.  That's not helpful.

However, some medical professionals would attribute all medical illness as organic and not spiritual, and think any pastor suggesting otherwise is from the dark ages.  That's not helpful either.

People need help from both their pastor and medical professionals. It's not an 'either-or' situation, it's 'both-and'.  We need pastors ready to administer freedom from oppression and bondage working alongside praying doctors who prescribe medicine.

Here's the story about Jesus and the demon possessed man:
Mark 5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
Here is the Wikipedia entry with DSM IV characteristics of schizophrenia.  Read and compare.

Comments on "Mental Illness or A Spiritual Problem"


Blogger Brad Boydston said ... (12:34 AM, January 07, 2010) : 

"...that most pastors tell them they have a spiritual problem and don't need to be treated by a doctor or medication."

I'm sure that there are SOME but most?


Blogger theultrarev said ... (10:51 AM, January 07, 2010) : 

That's fair. Thanks for pointing that out. One of the studies said 32% and that's not most.


Anonymous Your buddy said ... (9:16 AM, January 10, 2010) : 

Stevie Baby,

ouch. My daughter is Bi Polar with Schizophrenic tendencies. Fortunately we have not dealt with any imbalanced views from any CHristians we know - at least none that have been spoken out loud to us. We've had good support from pastors we know.


Blogger theultrarev said ... (10:59 AM, January 11, 2010) : 

Glad you have had a positive experience. I thought of you as I read this article. I've even run into this belief with parishioners at the churches I've served -- where they believe that a person's depression or other mental illness is a spiritual problem and they would just get over it if they prayed and read the Bible more. I'm surprised every time I run into it.


OpenID stbenedict said ... (9:51 PM, January 11, 2010) : 

I wonder if "most" would more accurately reflect evangelical (or conservative or fundamentalist) pastors? I can think of a number of people (just in my own family) who would "never send my kid to a non-Christian counselor" for psychological/psychiatric/mental illness help. But the common denominator here is that ALL of these people are definitely on the more conservative end of things. Jung wrote at length on this phenomoenon back in the 1930s with his piece "psychoanalysis or the clergy", which is interesting in that Jung wrote this just after the self-imposed exile of conservative Christians (and their pastors) from mainstream religion and science.


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