Joy sat at the table, her eyes big and watery.
“You know, my depression has been going on for a while, but my husband doesn’t believe me when I say I’m depressed.
Instead, he took me to our pastor and asked him to cast out the demon inside me.”
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
The Christian community is full of myths around mental illness. Whether it’s that taking medications goes against God’s provision for us or that depression or anxiety shows that we don’t trust God (and therefore we have weak faith), many Christians equate mental illness with a spiritual issue.
Sure, mental illnesses impact our relationship with God. Those of us with depression often feel God has left us; we struggle to find him because the disorder fogs our minds.
But the impact on our relationship isn’t always negative. I live with bipolar disorder, and it strengthens my prayer life and brings me closer to Jesus.
Of all the Christian-Based myths on mental illness, the “demon possession” theory pushes my buttons the hardest.
For someone who is depressed or living with severe anxiety, adding demon possession to their list of ailments perpetuates the cycle of despair they already live. I know several who have been through multiple exorcisms, only to find that their symptoms don’t get better.
They don’t get better because they aren’t possessed.
Let me say it louder for those in the back: EXORCISMS DON’T HELP PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS BECAUSE THEY AREN’T DEMON POSSESSED.
“But they act crazy! They see and hear things that aren’t there! They talk to people who don’t exist!”
Demon possession won’t show up on a brain scan, but mental illnesses do. Brain scans even differ depending on the nature of the disorder. ADHD looks different than bipolar disorder, which looks different than depression, PTSD, and anxiety. The wiring of the brain is different for each.
For the unbelievers out there, who insist that those scans look different because they pick up the demons inside the ill, let me point out medication.
According to every Christian theology that I’m aware of, demons will not respond to medication. Only exorcism can get those demons out.
Yet, we prescribe anti-depressants and mood elevators to people with depression. If you have ADHD, you likely take some form of stimulant to help slow down your brain. I take a mood stabilizer to help me manage my bipolar disorder.
And guess what? These medications work. It may take a while to figure out the right prescription and dosage, but ultimately, medications help us manage our symptoms. For some of us with severe, chronic conditions, we take a pill to help us for life.
For others, medication gives us the space we need to learn the skills required to manage our symptoms. Once we are in a better place, we can let them go.
Regardless, the idea that mental illness is a reflection of demon possession is entirely inaccurate.
And Joy? The pastor told her husband that she was most assuredly not possessed and to get her to a doctor.
Teresa Colón runs Wounded Birds Ministry, a Christian mental health ministry that provides practical tips for thriving while living with mental illness. Featured on Medium, The Mighty, and Thought Catalog, Teresa is also the author behind Seeing Ourselves Through God’s Eyes, a 4-week mental health devotional. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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