JESUS CHRIST ‘MAY HAVE SUFFERED FROM MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS’, CLAIMS CHURCH OF ENGLAND
Sunday August 26,2012
By Ted Jeor
A SUGGESTED sermon produced by the Church of England for clerics attempting to tackle the stigma of mental health pulls no punches.
Written by the Rev Eva McIntyre on behalf of the Church’s Archbishops’ Council and the Time to Change mental health campaign, it suggests John the Baptist, St Paul, St Francis and other figures from the Bible may all have been mentally ill.
It even asks followers to consider accusations made in the New Testament that Jesus “had lost his mind”.
It reads: “Many of the people we read about in Bible stories might today be considered as having mental health issues.
“For example, ‘Would Jesus’ family maybe on occasion have said, ‘Cousin John is a bit odd, bless him!’ when John the Baptist took to his eccentric style of life?
“It has long been thought that King Saul, in the books of Samuel, was displaying mood swings that suggest he had bi-polar disorder and some think that St Paul’s Damascus Road experience was the result of some sort of breakdown or psychotic episode.
“Even Jesus was not immune to accusations about his mental health: there is a story in the gospel that tells of his mother and siblings attempting to take him home because they are afraid that he has lost his mind “
”Even Jesus as not immune to accusations about his mental health: there is a story in the gospel that tells of his mother and siblings attempting to take him home because they are afraid that he has lost his mind.
“Many of the stories of the Saints, too, have led people to discuss their mental health. “For example was St Francis suffering from a mental health title?”
Acknowledging how shocking these ideas might be, Ms McIntyre, a member of the General Synod, adds: “Some may find these suggestions disturbing or offensive even.
“Perhaps we need to ask why it would be so terrible to think that some of our most inspirational forebears might have experienced mental health illness.
“Do we mistakenly believe that God cannot or will not work through people with mental health illness?
“Do we think that mental illness is one condition that makes
people less able to do God’s work, more unlikely to be able to articulate spiritual truth, and unable to participate meaningfully in worship?
“Who do we think ‘these people’ are? Statistics show us that one in four people suffer from mental health illness during their lives.
“That figure is based on those who go to the GP for help; the true figure is likely to be even higher.
“That means in a congregation of 50 people, at least 12 people will have experienced or be experiencing mental health issues.
“That includes the clergy and ministers, too. These conditions are part of human living; they are often caused by life experience such as grief, trauma and loss.
“These are things that happen to all of us and none of us should have to suffer in silence for fear of what others might think or say.”
The document went largely unreported when it was produced for World Mental Health Day late last October but its content, raising controversial questions about Biblical figures, is hugely significant.
The Church’s campaign will step up a gear for the next World Mental Health Day in October when it will concentrate on depression and acknowledge its past failings, having previously cast out the mentally ill as Satan’s followers.
Britain’s Muslim leaders are also tackling the issue head on.
Dr Kamran Ahmed, of the Muslim Council of Britain, says: “Research has shown this is an area of particular need amongst Muslims.”
He says this is due to “cultural and traditional beliefs”, which can include people mistakenly believing they are possessed by the “Evil Eye” when in fact they are mentally ill.
He has written a leaflet with the Royal College of Psychiatrists that is being sent to mosques, explaining mental illness and urging people to seek professional medical help.
In truth, religion has not always been compassionate to those who are mentally ill, while others, such as arch-atheist Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, consider religious faith a symptom of mild mental illness.
But there is evidence that devotion to a religion, and the increased selflessness that that involves, is beneficial to mental health.
Last week, a study by Professor Dan Cohen, of the University of Missouri, found that spirituality and the sense of belonging to a wider group might act as a coping mechanism.
Experts believe being part of a congregation brings the social contact that can lead to friendships, so combating loneliness, which is sometimes a cause of depression.
“With increased spirituality, people feel a greater sense of oneness with the rest of the universe,” Prof Cohen said.
He said doctors could take advantage of this relationship by tailoring treatments to include someone’s religious beliefs.
Those who have worked in the mental health field for decades agree the NHS can learn from the role religion plays.
Talking to the Sunday Express, which has been running its Crusade for Better Mental Health since February, Yens Marsen-Luther, an expert on the Mental Health Act who trains NHS practitioners, said the Church was “much more geared to the individual”.
He says: “It tries to avoid people being hospitalised. It supports them in life so that they don’t have to be subjected to medication and it often helps them through a crisis.
“It means they don’t have to undergo years of mental health suffering within the system, which is not geared towards the individual but much more about drugs.
“The drugs have a use in that they address a problem, but they destroy their social well-being and they change people’s personalities.
“The Church, in contrast, helps people to look much more at their individual problems and that’s really positive.”
Perhaps ironically, however, instead of learning from the Church and other faiths, there remains something of a stigma attached to religion among mental health clinicians.
Research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found some prejudice among its members but it has advised them to include questions about religious faith in initial assessment questionnaires.
The research, carried out in 2003, found that “the concept of being on a journey with God was important” to people it interviewed and that “the companionship, through mental illness, of someone each called God was valued and seemed integral to health”.
The Time to Change campaign says: “For many, church provides community and comfort.
“They can be a good place to start conversations about mental health, and help people feel it’s OK to talk about it.
“They can provide a safe space for people with mental health problems to open up – and in doing so they will help open the minds of those around them.”
• Download the controversion sermon in full here: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/churches