Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Differentiate Between Schizophrenia and Demonic Possession

Recently, I watched a series of psychology lectures online. I enjoyed the presentation very much and admired the professor's knowledge of the material and his willingness to answer as many student questions as he could. Part one of the lecture covered schizophrenia and he spoke in depth about auditory hallucinations and persistent delusions. When that class ended, I eagerly started part two. The introduction stated this time that the lectures were presented at a Christian university yet I couldn't help but be surprised when he opened the next lecture with prayer! One session he is describing the mentally ill hearing voices, talking to people who aren't there, and believing things that aren't real. The next session, he talks to someone who isn't there and honestly believes that the supreme creator of the universe is listening to him.

This has always been a pet peeve of mine. Mental illness isn't always determined by what is real. It's often determined by what is a cultural norm. So if you believe you can talk to your ancestor's spirits and they talk back to you, that's ok in a culture that promotes such belief. But if you stray too far outside your culture's beliefs, you may be labeled "mentally ill." If you think Jesus hears you and gives you the strength to get through the day, you're fine! But if you think some other cryptic deity or power guides you and gives you power, you may be insane. Of course, I'm not saying that irrationality equals mental illness - otherwise, we'd all be labeled as insane! But it does seem rather ridiculous that two people can have the same exact symptoms or delusions but only one person gets the label.

Back to the lectures, I was further shocked to see this otherwise intelligent and professional instructor talk about the difference between schizophrenia and demonic possession. He listed three ways he believes you can tell the difference:

1. Schizophrenics will display a strong, positive reaction to the mention of God or prayer while the possessed will show a strong, negative reaction.

2. Schizophrenics do not typically display logical speech and are often confused. Demons are sharp-witted, logical, and clever. They often know things about the people who are attempting deliverance.

3. Schizophrenics typically respond to meds and therapy. Demons do not.

By these criteria, I may be demon possessed. After all, I have responded negatively to mention of God. I have had doctors and laypeople galore tell me I need to get back in church, pray harder, turn it over to Jesus, etc. in order to get well. These responses are unhelpful and aggravating. Of course I'm going to respond negatively!

I also display logical speech most of the time. I do not have disorganized schizophrenia. I can also cold read the hell out of most people.

Lastly, I did not respond to medication for the first 14 years of treatment. If at first it doesn't succeed, there must be a demon!

It truly broke my heart to see this otherwise wonderful professor give his students such bad advice. Not just bad, mind you, but truly dangerous. But what else can we expect from an institution (religion) that critiques everyone else's delusions but refuses to examine its own? Tales of demonic possession not only made me feel more guilty and worthless but they also retarded my treatment. In the world of schizophrenia, early treatment is a big deal as it can slow down or stop some of the brain damage associated with the disease. So losing those first 14 years to irrational superstition has likely harmed me physically as well as emotionally.

Please think twice before you turn your mental health over to religion. You can't cure delusion with another delusion.