Mental illness and spiritual evil

July 21st, 2014

USA Today has a story today about mental illness currently overwhelming the criminal justice system. The most recent numbers show that 56% of state prison inmates and 45% of those in federal prisons are dealing with some kind of mental health problem.

Mental illness is becoming a bigger problem in society as a whole, not just with criminals. According to the World Health Organization, the number one cause of disability for adolescents is depression. Antidepressant use in the U.S. has increased by almost 400 percent in the last two decades, and the suicide rate from 1999 to 2010 among Americans ages 35-64 increased 28.4 percent.

In an article for Slate, “Abnormal is the New Normal,” clinical psychologist Robin Rosenberg notes that almost 50 percent of Americans will have a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetimes, and each year a quarter will have some kind of mental disorder. But severe mental illnesses affect only six percent of adults in a given year. I use the word “only,” but 14½ million is still a lot of people!

Rosenberg points out that our ability to diagnose mental health problems has improved over recent decades, and that our definition of what qualifies as mental illness has expanded. She also notes that some of the drug companies have pushed to define “problems” that didn’t exist before so they can create new markets for their products.

Fair enough. That accounts for part of the increase.

But everything considered, she still concedes the following:

“[W]e really are getting ‘sicker.’ The high prevalence of mental illness in the United States isn’t only because we’ve gotten better at detecting mental illness. More of us are mentally ill than in previous generations, and our mental illness is manifesting at earlier points in our lives.”

My question is, how much of this increase in mental illness can be attributed at least partly to spiritual causes?

Let me be clear. I believe mental illness is real. But I also believe that demonic influence, oppression, and in severe cases, possession are real too. Although mental and spiritual problems are two different things, we’d be both naive and foolish not to consider the connections between the two. I’m convinced that, in more cases than we’d like to admit, they feed off each other.

What does this mean? Simply that for some people, one approach isn’t going to solve their problems. I suspect that many Christian churches are likely either trusting secular psychiatry exclusively to handle the problem of spiritual evil (which it is unequipped to do), or they’re allowing a wild west of deliverance ministries and self-proclaimed exorcists to fill the void. And with virtually no standards or accountability in place, the latter can be a crapshoot. Even assuming that malevolent spiritual beings are a factor, if people’s root problems aren’t properly addressed, they could easily find themselves in a worse condition than they were in before seeking deliverance.

The Roman Catholic Church is upping its game on this. Many dioceses are training more priests in exorcism and deliverance, and earlier this year, the Vatican legally recognized the International Association of Exorcists, an organization of Roman Catholic priests who perform exorcisms. The rise of occultism is considered a contributing factor for the increased demand. World famous Vatican exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, one of the founders of IAOE, claims to have been involved in treating more than 70,000 cases of demonic possession.

Whether or not you agree with Roman Catholic theology or methodology, you have to admit that at least Catholics are doing something to deal with an urgent problem at a churchwide level.

Where are the Protestant denominations, particularly the mainline churches, on this issue?

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