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Can Religion Mask Mental Illness?


wanderinstar
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Hey all! I know this subject has almost been beaten to death, but I feel there is a little life left in the conversation, and I want to get this off my chest, so the speak.

 

A couple of days ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar l with Mixed Features. Apparently I have had this since my teens; and that was twenty years ago. Now aside from the fact that I did have one nasty case of PTSD, which can also mask Bipolar, it would seem being really religious made many of my Bipolar symptoms seem 'normal'. The intense highs I experienced as gods love, grace and holy spirit working in me made me appear 'on fire' for god. The deep depressions made me appear to have some hidden sin, curse or ungodly thought patters, which of course then required 'ministry' (ie casting demons out, repenting of sins and forgiving everyone, not matter what). This 'ministry' only made me more unwell so the lovely cycle continued, and nearly destroyed me. A christian psychiatrist, who I saw on and off for 10 years, openly admitted (just before I fired him) that he never had a clue what was wrong with me, yet he was in perfect agreement with the 'ministry' I was receiving, and never referred me to another psych for a second opinion. This situation only exacerbated the PTSD, and now I know, the Bipolar too.

 

In the last few weeks I was hospitalized due to a sudden, severe depression after a period of mild(ish) mania. My psychiatrist (who is a christian, but also a damn good psych) diagnosed me with Bipolar after carefully assessing what he has seen in me over the last 11 months, and my history. The interesting thing is my symptoms have changed little over the last 15 years that I have been in professional treatment (with a five year gap, cause I thought secular mental health treatment was 'evil'), but in the last year I have stopped being religious and separated from my husband. The marriage separation was extremely painful, but I am better off for it and no longer being christian has certainly helped me be more mentally healthy.

 

What I am now wondering is did me being a 'bat-shit crazy' christian prevent me from receiving proper mental health treatment? As psychosis is completely acceptable in many christian circles, I wonder if Bipolar like symptoms can also be accepted as a sign of spiritual maturity and closeness to god. Whatever the cause this misdiagnosis has cost me a lot as now I am being properly treated I finally know what 'well' feels like and have great strategies and medication to combat the illness when it chooses to f;are-up. In the last few weeks the new meds pulled me out of the depths of depression faster than I have ever experienced. I am still quite fragile, but I am positive and hopeful. thanks for reading smile.png

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Sorry to hear about your hospitalization, but yay for proper diagnosis and medication! 

 

Yes, I am positive that some forms of Christianity, especially the more fundamentalist ones that a lot of us seem to be from, masks mental illness and even encourages them to some degree. It makes sense really, if someone back in the day suffered from sudden, severe depression and couldn't seem to get out of it the answer would be to pray but now, we have more knowledge in the medical field and doctors that can diagnose and prescribe medicines. Religion probably did stop you from getting help sooner, but the important thing is you have gotten help now! 

 

Hopefully mental illness will become less of a stigma throughout the world as we go on.  I'm not sure if there is any on it in Australia. Me and my co-worker (who has Bipolar I) talk about our issues (I have OCD and social anxiety) pretty freely and our therapists visits; both of us have gone for depression.  Hopefully, it'll get to a point where these are dealt with much earlier and/or better thinking skills are taught throughout K-12.  I really, really wish I had been taught the stuff I learned in anxiety therapy earlier in school (though through Christian eyes, it might have still turned out the way it did). But I tend to have negative streams of thought and have to stop that flow-- I used to use prayer to do that or reading "positive" Bible verses and listening to positive music.  Now, I have learned how to do that without the religious bits, but it does take quite a bit of effort. 

 

I'm sure symptoms of Bipolar can definitely be accepted as closeness to god. It's interesting, Bipolar is considered one of the oldest mental illnesses, apparently a connection between depression and mania was made in ancient Turkey but it wasn't until much later that the link was explored and even more recently that stuff was done about it. 

 

I've been reading a lot on positive thinking lately; think about what you want, not what you don't have, worry diaries, etc. It's good to be positive and hopeful.  I'm glad you are doing well and feeling better!! yellow.gif woohoo.gif

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Thanks kolaida! Positive thinking is very helpful, but only when combined with professional mental health treatment; as I am sure you know. One thing that was so clear to me is how easy it is to be positive when I am well, or manic, and how damn hard it is to be positive when depressed. It certainly helps to try though; I know I have to fight hard to stay relatively positive when depressed as things can get so dark, so quickly thatI become a risk to myself. 

 

The stigma is Australia is alive and well, but I  also have several people in my life who I can 'talk shop' with about our various mental illnesses. This really helps to normalize the experience and combat the judgement I get from others. I have also noticed that more TV shows and movies deal with mental health in a more balanced way than in the past. This really does help to reduce the stigma more. I have noticed that some illnesses carry more stigma than others. Previously I have been diagnosed with Complex PTSD, which to many people (including professionals in the field) means you are weak, lazy or think too much. Basically I was subtly being blamed for my illness, as if it was a lifestyle choice. Now I have Bipolar I am suddenly being treated as if I am actually unwell, and it is not my fault. This irritates me as it is just a label change, my actual illness hasn't changed. All moods/behaviour have a chemical nature to them; it's why many people recreationally take drugs. Sometimes a trigger sends the brain chemistry off, sometimes the brain chemistry is naturally unbalanced. Treatment may change based on this but the fact that people from both sides can be at the mercy of their chemistry at times remains the same.

 

The stigma is still entrenched; it is partly why I started this (and others here) thread, to raise awareness to break the stigma.

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My short answer is YES!

 

In my opinion, based on my own mental illness and history with the mind-fuck called the Assemblies of God, is it's a cycle.Churches like the AG really work people up emotionally and push seeing great meaning in completely ordinary things (fictional example: I've been praying to know God's will and a I just noticed there's a house for sale on Goodwill Rd. Those words are so close! God wants me to buy that house! This is a sign!).

 

So let's make a list:

 

Charismatic churches especially encourage

 

1. paranoia 

2. Finding meaning in dreams

3. seeing visions

4. hearing voices and responding to the voices in your head

5. depression over "the lost"

6. Getting amped up emotionally

 

All those things applied to me, and because I conformed to 1-6, my fellow Christians were ALWAYS telling me what a great christian I was and how on fire for God I was and how they wanted to be JUST LIKE me.

 

I was extremely unhealthy mentally. By the time I was 17, I was suicidal much of the time, very stressed and looking for relief from the constant pressure to save the world. When I realized that NoDoz gave me the relief I was looking for, I got scared I would start getting dependent on pills, so I broke down and made an appt to talk to my pastor about how crazy I felt.

 

And this is the second unfortunate thing about charismatic churches: Their pastors know absolutely nothing about science or psychology. Desperate people come to them for counseling all the time and the good ol boy pastors tell them to rebuke the devil, read the Bible, pray, recommend a Christian book, or they just come up with something off the top of their heads. This is no way to handle fragile, desperate people. 

 

During my 6 months or so of going to my pastor for "counseling", I built up a lot of misconceptions that professional counselors later had to undo.

 

Zoloft, professional counseling, and getting out of the church have brought me to a great place mentally. Because depression runs in my family, I will probably always need the medicine, but that's fine. I can live with that.  I'm glad you're also getting the help you need.

 

 

 

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What I am now wondering is did me being a 'bat-shit crazy' christian prevent me from receiving proper mental health treatment?

 

Yes.

 

When every aspect of life if framed as 'spiritual warfare" reality takes a back seat. I'm glad you finally got real help for a real problem.

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The evangelical, charismatic versions (or any emotionally charged version) of christianity doesn't just mask the bipolar condition, it emphasizes and encourages it, just as you described.  It was the same for me, I'm type II.

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The evangelical, charismatic versions (or any emotionally charged version) of christianity doesn't just mask the bipolar condition, it emphasizes and encourages it, just as you described.  It was the same for me, I'm type II.

 

Thanks Voice. Sorry to hear you have to deal with this illness too, I hear Bipolar ll can be just as bad as l, only in a different way. 

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  • 2 months later...

From my experience in church, it was as if mental illness did not exist. They didn't want to hear about it, talk about it, nothing. No mention at all. And yet, they would stir everybody up emotionally. They would force people together for "fellowship". They wanted you to expose your deepest prayers publicly.

It's simply irresponsible!

I don't suffer from bi-polar but I have my difficulties. Seeing life as a spiritual war going on around me was causing me to be negative, fearful and hateful. It was terrible for my mental health. I never spoke to my preacher about my thoughts on the spiritual war but I feel that if I had, I would have been encouraged and praised. Sick! 

Somehow, the illusion came crumbling down. I'm glad it did. Feel so much better now.

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From my experience in church, it was as if mental illness did not exist. They didn't want to hear about it, talk about it, nothing. No mention at all. And yet, they would stir everybody up emotionally. They would force people together for "fellowship". They wanted you to expose your deepest prayers publicly.

It's simply irresponsible!

I don't suffer from bi-polar but I have my difficulties. Seeing life as a spiritual war going on around me was causing me to be negative, fearful and hateful. It was terrible for my mental health. I never spoke to my preacher about my thoughts on the spiritual war but I feel that if I had, I would have been encouraged and praised. Sick! 

Somehow, the illusion came crumbling down. I'm glad it did. Feel so much better now.

 

You are right. It is totally irresponsible to mess with peoples hearts and minds like that. I also saw life as one big spiritual war. It is enough to make a mentally healthy person feel crazy, or even become mentally unwell. It certainly fucked with my mind, and exacerbated my mental illness. I too feel much better now I am free from the christian delusion. My bipolar has not magically disappeared but it is much easier to treat, to see the illness for what it is rather than thinking the devils messing with me all of the time. I am so glad you are out of that mess and starting to feel better :) 

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