Christianity As A Cloak For Mental Illness

I was reading the comments on a post about religion and mental health and found some poor Christians talking about being tormented by demons and now I’m over here in a rage just wanting to scream YOU ARE NOT BEING TORMENTED BY DEMONS YOU HAVE A MENTAL ILLNESS AND NEED TREATMENT, NOT JESUS.*


Several years ago I read another article on religion and mental health, which wasn’t about personal experiences with religion and mental health, but rather the way that religion serves to cloak the symptoms of mental illness, which means people and their families and community are less likely to recognize their symptoms for what they are and get help.

When this is brought up to religious communities, they tend to react as if the medical community is saying religion IS a mental illness and refuse to help or educate on the subject.

Unfortunately I wasn’t using my laptop when I read it, so I don’t have it bookmarked to link here, but what it described really resonated with me. I’m convinced my mother has the symptoms of a mental health disorder and that she used religion to help her cope with it. If my mother were to have said the things she believed over the years without the religious language, it would have been a lot more apparent that something very unhealthy was happening in her psyche.

Whatever mental illness she may have, the symptoms aren’t quite as extreme as symptoms that have you convinced you’re being visited and tormented by demons. She’s high functioning, and when she was younger, there was very little hope of receiving medical help and attention, so it makes sense that religion was where she turned. It gave her answers, which in turn gave her a sense of security and control.

The fact that the answers, security and control were all an illusion didn’t matter. I believe religion acted as a placebo and did offer her some benefits.

It had some pretty terrible effects for her children, though.

My mother was obsessed with apocalyptic, end-of-the-world thinking. She gravitated towards friends that shared the same obsession, and she spoke about it quite a lot in front of us. When I was in my mid-teens I remember being tormented by a fear of the impending End Times and the belief that I’d never get to experience a normal life. She thought the end of the world would be her salvation and was excited by the prospect. I didn’t want Jesus to come back.

That wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what happened to my little brother. I’m 12 years older than my little brother, so this occurred after I’d moved out, and I wouldn’t hear about it until many years after the fact. When he was around 8, he had a dream that by age 21, he’d be in Israel with his friends, fighting the last battle of Armageddon. With all the adults around him talking about the End Times, it’s not a surprise he’d have a dream like that.

My mom’s friends believed the dream was prophetic, and told my mom that. My mom in turn told my little brother and my little brother spent the next 12 years believing he was destined to be in Israel fighting in Armageddon.

The dream was not prophetic, of course, and when he turned 21 and the full weight of what he’d believed, and the fact that he had deliberately chosen not to do anything with his life until that point because he believed it would be a waste of time, came crashing down on him. We don’t talk much these days, but last I knew, he’d become an atheist. He had severe trouble becoming a functional adult, but it sounds like he’s finally doing a little better than he was.

I’m so fucking tired of a religion that claims to be about love allowing the least of these to suffer, because they’d rather allow and ignore suffering than admit they need to change and grow as a religion.

I wish I had a way to get through to the Christians suffering these symptoms, to convince them to seek medical attention, so they could get treatment and feel hope and actually take some control over their life and their future.

They’re just going to keep praying, though, and teaching their impressionable children that demons are real, and out to get them.

*I actually still like Jesus. If Christians actually followed his example, I doubt I’d have much of an issue with Christianity.

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