"Mental Illness" and Religion


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Mentally ill is the term that modern culture uses to label any mental state that differs too much from the middle. Any such awareness of the world is called a disease and treated like one. A schyzophrenic is not somebody on a great inner journey. It is somebody who is ill and must be, to quote RD Laing, "chemically or physically lobotomized." And this is true for many "illnesses." Surely, some of these people are truly suffering and do benefit from the gifts of the current mental health systems among prosperous nations. I am one such person. But does this validate approaching psychological irregularities as a disease? How have different ancient religions approached these irregularities and does any of their approach reflect enlightenment and not ignorance?

For most people, their moods are a fluctuation of fairly even hills and valleys, as drawn with a pencil on a piece of graph paper. If somebody has depression, their valleys are deeper and the hills may be closer together or farther apart. For somebody who is bipolar, the valleys are deeper, the hills are higher, they may be closer or further apart, and sometimes there are hills and valleys at the same time. Mania is the polar opposite of depression, even as they do occasionally occur together.

The most common symptoms of mania are an elevated mood, increased activity, racing thoughts, possible delusions of grandeur that may also be accompanied with a feeling that one can do anything, is invincible. Rarely people may halucinate. This may all happen quite quickly and sharply or it may build slowly.

When I look at the History of my religion, I see the potential for many bipolar individuals. Shabetai Tzvi was a false messiah in Europe. He would have down periods and also periods where he would be filled with energy, talking more and busy. In his case, when he was like this he would do what was blasphemous. At first he started by speaking the Tetragramatton. It escalated. When he went to see a man named Nathan for advice -- because in addition to this he would also say he was the messiah -- Nathan told him he really was the messiah and over a pilgrimage to Jerusalem convinced him of it. Eventually Shabetai was doing things like marrying a fish, and he had a huge following. Then he converted to Islam to spare his life.

I see it in the prophets who are pursued by God, and those people who acted under the influences of the spirit of God, driven by something they could not understand. When I was little before I was diagnosed I would cry out, "It's not me!" Eventually I went to a Shaman for an exorcism. I see it in stories of demon posessions. I see it in people who were born different and raised from birth to be a holy people who lived somewhat separate from the other people, but were also included and revered.

Is there indeed evidence that many of the holy people of the past would today be labeled mentally ill? Is there some in between that we should be finding that recognizes the potential of these mental irregularities to bless the world or would that be a step backwards? Is there a holistic approach to be reclaimed from our ancestors?

I put this in comparative religion because in my own mind I have little access to the religious histories of other peoples and I was hoping to look at diverse examples. Feel free to move if it fits better somewhere else.

This raises so many important questions. Most people share similar, overlapping views of reality. When someone has a very different view, we call them insane. Some societies are more tolerant than others. In Soviet Russia, political dissidents were put in asylums because their society could not tolerate those with such dissonant ideas. But this is the role of the prophet. (S)he is ordained by God to speak uncomfortable and unpopular truths to unwilling people. Noah (IIRC) was considered mad, according to the story.

The whole idea of dividing people into two groups may itself be a symptom of a world in need of healing - being made whole.

"Psychology" has a long past but a short history".

As a science, it begun about 100 years ago when Wilhealm Wundt opened a psychological laboratory in Germany. Although interest in mind and behaviour is at least as old as human records. It wasn't so long ago when mentally ill people were attributed to having a variety of things wrong with them, these ranged from possession by demons, witchcraft, exposure to moon rays, an imbalance of bodily fluids, etc.

Ever since the Middle Ages insanity has been blamed on possession by the devil. Women were burnt at the stake and in the 19th century, asylum keepers thought that a sudden shock could restore reason. There was also the practice of abandoning adults and children whose intelligence or behaviour did not measure up to society's standards. Sadly this still goes on in some parts of the world.

Western civilization doesn't consciously approve of "insane asylums" but sadly from recent viewing of television documentaries of 'care homes'. All we have done is given them a different name, they now have less qualified staff to take care of them and the tax payers are lining the pockets of private business owners and the people who are suffering the most are the most vulnerable people in our society today. Especially the ones with learning difficulties,  they can't tell us about the atrocities that are happening to them.

Scientists in other fields, such as physics and chemistry often criticise psychology as "soft" and reflect doubt on the validity as a science. Some doubts are reasonable. Is it really valid to apply results of animal experiments to human behaviour, just because the animals' nervous systems are somewhat like our own? Some scientists do agree that 'talk therapy" has helped many people,  but it still bothers some scientists that after 100 years there is no scientific evidence to prove how and why it works for some and not for others.

Furthermore, one philosopher Patricia Churchland of the University of California at San Diego, has pointed out that the portion of the brain reachable by talk-our conscious, thinking, introspective self -is "only a little bubble on the froth", beneath which the huge preponderance of brain activity proceeds in effect, on its own.

Its also interesting to note that psychotherapy is alien to most non-Western cultures. In 1988, there were only four psychiatrists in all of Tokyo.

Theorists and Theories: The Pioneers of Psychology

Until the end of the 18th century, the study of human nature, which we call psychology, belonged to philosophy. Since then, psychology has been expanded and altered by the work of scientists such as those listed below:

Wilhelm Wundt, German,  1832-1920

His approach is called structuralist because it sought the underlying structure of the mind through testing the subject's perception of externally presented stimuli. Wundt's work influenced the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, originator of the classification of mental diseases.

William James, American, 1842-1910

America's first prominent psychologist, James published The Principles of Psychology in 1890. He emphasised adaptation to the environment and became known as a functionalist for his premise that our behaviour is not random but serves a purpose, or function.

Sigmund Freud, Austrian, 1856-1939

Sigmund Freud's name overshadows all others in psychology. He is still  seen as a true intellectual revolutionary, he said we were all born with powerful, instinctual drives, which must be tamed if we are to become civilized. The conflict between gratification or repression of these drives leads to neuroses and psychoses. He searched for the explanations of neurotic behaviour.

Freud believed that to get rid of unacceptable impulses (anger or lust) the patient represses them. But they survive in the unconsciousness and produce anxiety, guilt, compulsive behaviour, depression, or all of these. Freud introduced 'the talking therapy' known as psychoanalysis as a treatment for these conflicts and this is still the basis of therapy for
mental disorders to this day. It's bizarre that Freud used ancient Greek drama and legend to illustrate his theories of  consciousness when you take into account that sexual deviation, incest and child abuse was normal and acceptable behaviour in these ancient cultures. How could he ever think that our 20th century consciousness was the same?

If we review the era and continent where Freud originated, its not surprising how he came to his conclusions. We have the combination of a Victorian era with sexual repression and its subordination of women, and a war torn Edwardian era.  In addition, he came from Austria which had a strong German influence, not known for their warmth or compassion.   I am not surprised that during the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, people repressed their feelings, they lived in fear of the calamity of war and women lived in a male dominated society.  It was an era of ultimate repression. We are the results of this era and  we are only now working our way through the repercussions.

From what I have read of Freud he obviously had a real issue with women and their sexuality or maybe he had a problem with his own, or his mother? It's reported that he once said "What does woman want?" I can see why his theories went down well with the male dominated medical health profession, his theories sat nicely on the lap of the patrichial society. Sigmund Freud also thought that verbal slips of the tongue represented hidden thoughts or repressed wishes but the latest research shows that Freudian slips are often nothing more then speech errors due to memory lapses and inattention.

What does surprise me is that most of psychology and psychiatry is to this day, mainly based on Freud's theories. At the end of the day it was a theory and not a proven fact! So where does that leave the mental health profession in the 21st century? A mental health profession that supports the use of hard drugs to suppress even more thought-led emotions!

Alfred Binet, French 1857-1910

By developing quantitative tests to measure intelligence in children and introducing the concept of mental age. Binet hugely expanded the practical application of psychology.

Carl Jung, Swiss, 1875-1961

This is the man that I have the utmost respect for, I believe that he is the only influential psychologist that has got anywhere near understanding consciousness at the most complex spiritual levels. He was definitely ahead of his time. Jung defined the ideally healthy human personality as one that has achieved a balance between the conscious and the unconscious, between interior and exterior life. He understood the importance of the soul.

He said  "For thousands of years rites of initiation have been teaching rebirth from the spirit, yet man has forgotten the meaning of divine intiatory procreation in our times. I simply believe that some part of the human soul is not subject to the laws of space and time. This causes him to suffer a loss of soul, a condition that sadly is everywhere present today. Why is it when many counsellors are being trained, Carl Jung's teachings are not included in their education? Is it because he recognises that we do have a soul and this consciousness can have an effect on our personalities, mental reactions and karmic plays.  I am not surprised that Carl Jung fell out with Sigmund Freud over his theories.

John B Watson, American 1878-1958

Founder of behaviourism, Watson believed that springs from conditioning and that conditioning is the most important force in shaping who we are. Environment, not heredity, counts.

Karl Lashley, American 1890-1958

Through intensive neuropsychological investigation,Lashley concluded that the whole brain, not just specific areas, responded to new information. He named his thesis equipotentiality,

Abraham H. Maslow American, 1908-1970

We have "an active will toward health an impulse towards growth, or toward the actualization of human potentialities". We reach our full potential through self-actualization, which includes peak experiences of almost mystical ecstasy.

Karen Horney, American 1885-1952

We are shaped primarily by interpersonal relationships, rather than by Freudian biological drives. Personality disorders are misdirected efforts to live with anxiety that originates in "the feeling a child has of being in a hostile world".


Consciousness changes from culture to culture, from civilisation to civilisation. We in the western world in the 21st century are beginning to catch up with the east in our belief that the mind is not only in the brain but in every cell of our body. And every cell has a mind of its own. There are a number of levels to our consciousness, both in depth and in breadth. Like an onion, it has layer upon layer, it is mult-dimensional.

The breadth of consciousness includes the following: The conscious mind processes everything from our environment, the sub-conscious mind  buries all that we do not want to accept, our un-conscious mind is the result of the karmic plan, it is this un-conscious that brings back experiences relating to past lives and provides a diversity of karmic challenges that we must learn to overcome. It also includes our genetic level of consciousness with the inherited personality traits not only of our parents but our ancestors as well.


The idea of humane therapy is not new. Two centuries ago, care of mental patients took a dramatic turn for the better when Philippe Pinel became director of the Bicetre asylum in Paris. Rejecting the notion that the mentally ill were possessed by demons. Pinel unchained the inmates and began a programme of kindness. Hippocrates, called the father of medicine, was very modern with his views that mental illness has natural causes and that the brain was the seat of thought and emotion. And, many of today's findings about the brain and behaviour simply amplify Aristotle's assertions that the human psyche(or mind) is a part of the body and that our capacity for reason and moral choice develops as the brain processes more and more data from the senses.

Anaxagoras (c.500BC-c.428BC) believed that the universe came about through the action of a cosmic mind, or nous, which means 'mind' or 'reason' this energy force was made up of an infinite number of particles, or 'seeds' . Seeds were similar to what we would think  of today as 'atoms'.

Prevention is the only cure for the increasing mental health problem in the 21st century. If the right help, tools and emotional support were given to people who are depressed in the very early stages then 85% of people would not become mental health patients. Drugs could be replaced by complementary medicine and therapies. This would not only be more humane but would also benefit the long term health and well-being of the patient. If care homes had a small team of holistic healers, again this would be more beneficial to the patients best interests. The universal cosmic law is that energy follows though. In a majority of cases it is the detrimental thought-led emotions that create the depression, which creates the mental health problem in the first place.


The problem with schizophrenia is that it is another lable given to those people that the medical profession do not understand. Many people that are given this lable, are having a spiritual awakening so from my perspective it is more of a spiritual perspective then the religious one.

I had some discussion with a professor in the US about this, and he agreed that my theory was a very strong possibility, he mentioned one case of a young girl. Her only experience was a recurring satanic dream, it was clear to me after discussion with her over the internet that this was a past life experience that could be healed with past life healing, but yet she had been convinced by the medical professional that she was sick, and as such was on serious medication for schizophrenia.

So going back to religion when Jesus was ridding people of the demons of possession, it is very likely that this was nothing more then removing the dark energy or negative thinking patterns. Healers of consciousness and self development facilitators like myself help people to do this today.

Now with the latest breakthroughs in cellular biology all that metaphysicians have always known is now proven. Dr Bruce Lipton calls his research the 'Biology of Belief' and it is based upon how thoughts, perceptions and beliefs effect one's cells. Also nature-nurture and the environment www.brucelipton.com. At last science has caught up with consciousness and spirituality, but it will take some time for psychology to catch up with the rest of the cutting edge scientific community.

Mental Health is one of the subjects that I feel very passionate about so please do not hesitate to ask more questions.

Mental Health WILL Change

Love beyond measure

Dear Virtual Cliff

'(S)he is ordained by God to speak uncomfortable and unpopular truths to unwilling people. Noah (IIRC) was considered mad, according to the story.'

Ah...oh yes can really relate to this!

But I am learning not to degrade truth on unwilling ears, as Jesus said 'do not throw pearls before swine'.

And is this not why Jesus was crucified? I feel he triggered too many issues for the priests, those that were stuck in their comfort zones were not happy bunnies.....

One cannot shift the box, until the box is ready to be shifted!

Love beyond measure

I accept your point, Sacredstar, but there are always some "swine" that surprise you by becoming heroes. Look what happened when Job prophesied to the Ninevites. It's a fine line between being a bore and being smug. Most ordinary people are probably unwilling at first to hear the truth, but some will come round while others just call you mad.

thanks for putting so much into your post. Are you familiar with R.D. Laing and the Laingian Society and Laingian Institute? He was British and pushed radically towards rebirth-like approaches for schyzophrenia, blending shamanism and psychotherapy into a beautiful approach to healing.


I feel quite strongly that he was onto something and modern medicine is heading in the wrong direction. I myself am on quite a bit of medication, but as the winter comes I still find myself struggling for footing. I am going to more earnestly adhere to a regiment of daily meditation and see where it takes me. I am bipolar, not schyzophrenic.

I'm not convinced that modern medicine has any kind of direction for treating psychiatric disorders. The general rule seems to be to sedate patients. That's not treating the symptoms - it's just trying to avoid dealing with the causes - precisely because our understanding of consciousness and how the mind works is so primitive. Unfortunately.
Dear Virtual Cliff

Totally agree, in fact the ones that have no spiritual or religious belief usually make the most rapid breakthroughs. I think when Jesus said that quote he must have been referring to the blind masters, I think he gave up with his contemporaries and hence why he was able to help those that wish to be helped.

Dear Duar

I have not heard about Laing's work, I tend to concentrate on the latest in scientific breakthroughs that back up and support my own work with healing consciousness multi-dimensionally. You mention winter so I am wondering whether you suffer a bit from SAD? I am not sure whether I am allowed to make recommendations on this forum? So please delete if not allowed, Duar I recommend you also try some vibrational medicine e.g. flower essences, these work at a higher vibrational frequency then our mindfield. Also see a kinesiologist, your body can then tell the therapist what it requires to heal the root causes. Also a Reiki healing course is brilliant to, and then you can give yourself healing every day.

Dear Brian

Well things are shifting slowly......some CM is now included in medical degrees and Princes Charles has called for a 'spiritual paradigm' in medicine so a group of doctors are working on it at the Royal College.

Love beyond measure

Sacredstar said:
Dear Duar

I have not heard about Laing's work, I tend to concentrate on the latest in scientific breakthroughs that back up and support my own work with healing consciousness multi-dimensionally. You mention winter so I am wondering whether you suffer a bit from SAD? I am not sure whether I am allowed to make recommendations on this forum? So please delete if not allowed, Duar I recommend you also try some vibrational medicine e.g. flower essences, these work at a higher vibrational frequency then our mindfield. Also see a kinesiologist, your body can then tell the therapist what it requires to heal the root causes. Also a Reiki healing course is brilliant to, and then you can give yourself healing every day.

I am a level II Reiki Practitioner. I was brought up with vibrational medicine, mainly Mariel and a polarity therapy practitioner facilitating with a Dreamweaver machine. I also did something else that integrated muscle-testing to find the most effective treatment, be it hearing a particular note, seeing a particular color, saying an affirmation, smelling an aroma, or some combination. At this point all of these systems seem the same to me, just with different actions to express the same thing. I'm intuitive enough after everything I've been through to know what my body needs as well as any energy healer I've met. None of them have been able to help me with my mania. Besides the awareness that has seeped into my skull since I first recognized my experience of the world isn't reality for everyone else, the greatest help to me have been the latest changes in my medication.

I have gone from a zombie to an active -- potentially -- human being and I don't have to worry as much I'm going to hurt the people around me. Any change in medication will potentially bring my mania back, and with that comes the potential for me to lose everything. Knowing that ultimately when I am manic I lose my sense of reality and act based on false perceptions of the world around me, meditation will be beneficial. Lying on the dreamweaver, or on my mom's reiki table, it's all the same, a guided form of meditation. I've also had rolfing done which I forgot to mention.

You know in Reiki, they say the facilitator doesn't heal, just allows the universal energy to flow through them? It's the same way with everything. Energy is always flowing, but sometimes people forget how to flow it. Sometimes people never learn. They don't take time to let it flow. It's similar to smokers stopping in their day. The smoke facilitates stopping. The energy healer facilitates meditating, and their presence helps to reinforce the focus of the meditation, which is flowing energy, as is everything. It's the other side of the coin. This concrete world is just as real as flowing energy interconnected. But they are all the same thing.

A healer doesn't heal. We heal ourselves because we trust the healer. I trust myself and eliminate the middle man. Now concrete healing, for this I have a psychiatrist and a therapist and an internist. Energy healing is all the same. When I no longer trust my own ability to heal, when I no longer trust my own ability to find time to heal, then I will find a healer. When I go to shul, there I get my group intention, be it in meditation or prayer, it is all the same. Next time I won't choke back the tears.

Dear Dauer

OK as you wish, I of course honour your choices and experiences.

I am an advocate of accessing the root causes of the core issues but it sounds like you know how to do that.

GOD speed you with your healing process.

I'm not convinced that modern medicine has any kind of direction for treating psychiatric disorders. The general rule seems to be to sedate patients. That's not treating the symptoms - it's just trying to avoid dealing with the causes - precisely because our understanding of consciousness and how the mind works is so primitive. Unfortunately.

Sedation is treating.... It lowers the levels/rate/strength of the illness... Understanding of how the mind works will forever be primitive... The brain is far to complex to be understood by the likes of a meer human, we cannot even use it to it's full potential, if we cannot even use it correctly and fully how are we to understand it?

Sedation is good in many cases.... I know from a few experiences. Just browsing old posts and came across this... Just you make it seem like those that sedate are doing jack **** and they are... They are doing the best they can and that is combat the waves/signals that are causing this person problems. If you can slow them down you can begin to prevent them, and you can also find which chemicals can balance the mind out and for how long..... *shrugs* my thought... :)
My issue is seeing the impact on a friend in my teenage years - he apparently suffered a psychotic depression, but all his treatment basically seemed like was heavy sedation.

He was a very gifted academic at school, all set for Oxford or Cambridge. When I visited him in the "mental hospital" he was like a zombie. If you offered him two choices, he would always agree with the second one because he couldn't even remember the first option.

I studied psychology at college and a bit at university, and read around the subject of abnormal psychology. And the only defining truth about mental illness is that it is very poorly understood, and different psychiatrists are prone to diagnose the same patient with different disorders.

While there are some generic diagnoses, these seem to be labels only, and don't suggest either an understanding of the underlying cause, nor of the best method to treat such a diagnosis. Then there are added complications of sub-types of these diagnoses. For example, schizophrenia is a generic label, but there are different (and overlapping) definitions of specialist forms of schizophrenia, ie, hebephrenic.

Overall, though, there are various extremes of human experience - love is an extreme state of mind, grief, and the spiritual experience as well. Some extreme states can be induced by psychotropic drugs. While some of these states may easily replicate the symptoms of mental illness, it doesn't necessarily mean the underlying causes are the same, and therefore there can be no sure comparison between the extreme state and mental illness definitions.

Just 2c and a rant. :)
Thinking of mental health in terms of chi health could be an important way for the West to learn from the East.

Cognitive therapy --a technique for becoming aware of, and untying, the knots one ties oneself in --is similar to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness.

Ezekiel shows signs of manic tendencies. Reading his book has made me wonder how modern psychologists would classify him.

One of the main ways studying philosophy in university helped me to understand myself was through learning, mainly from Wittgenstein, that it is likely that each of us experiences reality in completely different ways. Only through learning language do we attach a particular label to a particular experience. Language allows us to communicate our experiences, but it also glosses over individuality. There is something liberating about knowing that you are the authority of your own experiences.
Just looking at "PMD"

  1. depressed mood most of the day nearly every day
  2. loss of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day nearly every day
  3. significant weight loss or weight gain, OR decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day
  4. insomnia OR hypersomnia (sleeping excessively) nearly everyday
  5. psychomotor agitation(moving more quickly) OR retardation(moving more slowly) nearly every day, so much that other people notice
  6. fatigue OR loss of energy nearly every day
  7. feelings of worthlessness OR excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick)
  8. diminished ability to think or concentrate, OR indecisiveness, nearly every day
  9. recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent ideas about suicide without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide
  10. delusions or hallucinations
I get a 6 out of 10.... But I am pretty certain I don' t have PMD lol!

I would agree that your friend shouldn't have been sedated for PMD... But I'm not a doctor *shrugs* antidepressants and antipsychotics would be best Idea but Sedatives hmmm...
I doubt he was actually given sedatives. That was more likely a side effect of the medications. Antipsychotics can have very severe side effects.
Could be right - certainly I wasn't aware of what medication he was actually on, as much as the impact of the drugs on his ability to function.
I am neither doctor or philosopher but I believe that a great majority of so called mental illnesses can be attributed to the workings of the brain not so much being faulty but in some cases working better than the "normal" brain. As with questions of past lives etc. the individual dna cocktail that we have has areas of previous experiences and existences. These are sometimes accesssed unwittingly hence things like deja-vu, hearing voices, experiencing other personalities, seeing things are not as abnormal as generally thought. I grant you they can be frightening to some and naturally most people do not discuss these experiences in case they are deemed insane.

The same reasoning can be applied to those who feel they have been born the wrong gender no one is only male or female but it may be that the inbuilt experiences are of one gender so the mind creates confusion to the present person.

As for religion likewise the joy found by many in all religions is a manifestation of the collection of previous experiences with a bit of help from God.
Dauer et all,

I just saw this thread for the first time. I think this is a fascinating area of study. I am presently putting together a theory on what I call Personality Difficulties. We have two extremes in modern psychology, people who are emotionally stable, and people who have personality disorders. I think that a lot of people fit into a middle area that has not been fully studied. Some people are too childish, stoic and distant, class clowns, overly-intellectual, sarcastic, aggressive, Drama Queens, too intense, too introverted, etc., but there is no "pigeon hole" to put these middle-area people into. The more we can see that there is a middle ground between sanity and insanity, the better we can understand and help people who are "quirky."
I wholly agree that the demarcation between disorders and normality is sadly lacking. But we have to remember this is still a science in its infancy and there are many working in the field who now recognise that the shades of grey are everywhere. The combination of new non-invasive techniques being brought to the table are going to revolutionise this area of investigation in the coming years.