Parents turn to pastors instead of doctors to treat children with mental problems
Nadine Wilson, Staff Reporter
There are growing concerns that a number of children struggling with mental illnesses are being labelled as demon-possessed by pastors who often physically abuse them and expose them to stigmatisation in the school and home settings.
Among those expressing concern is founder of the Overcomer World Ministries, Bishop Dr Joseph Ade-Gold, who explained that some pastors often encounter difficulties in differentiating spiritual issues from mental ones.
"I know that most of the principles of deliverance are not being followed by a lot of persons who are involved in deliverance ministry," Abe-Gold told The Sunday Gleaner.
"They believe that beating the person would get the demons out, but that's wrong. They use hands or they take some type of instrument and beat them, to get out the demons, which is totally, totally wrong. The scriptures did not give us that type of directions," argued Abe-Gold, who started his ministry more than 25 years ago.
According to Abe-Gold, he has received a number of requests over the years from school administrators and parents who are concerned about the behaviour of their children.
Several of these children, he said, had been displaying maladaptive behaviour such as the cutting of their wrists, but this changed has during his services.
Abe-Gold said earlier this month he visited Trelawny where he was approached by several parents requesting prayers for their troubled children.
He told our news team that in order to minimise the risks of abuse he hopes to have meetings with guidance counsellors at schools to educate them on how to select spiritual leaders whenever it is suspected that a student is demon-possessed.
But child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Ganesh Shetty argues that many of these children need medical attention and not spiritual healing.
According to Shetty, the belief in demons and the reliance on pastors and spiritual leaders to exorcise them is one of the challenges medical professionals face in treating children with mental-health issues.
"Science doesn't believe in demonic possession, but religious people believe," said Shetty.
"Depending on what the child is exhibiting, we look at the possibility of what mental illness is affecting them and there is something called disassociation. Disassociation is when a child is trying to manage some of the negative experiences, so they disassociate to manage," he pointed out.
Among the range of experiences that cause children to disassociate is sexual abuse. Schizophrenia is also one of those mental conditions which Shetty argued is often confused as demon possession.
"There is a need for communication and there should be presentation in the churches about these issues, so they would not confuse the confused child more by saying 'ok now, you are not only mentally ill, but you are possessed, too'," the psychiatrist said.
"Gathering together to pray is good and if someone wants to come to your house and pray, that's good, too, but please don't tell the child they are demon-possessed and please don't take them to obeahman and reader man," he admonished.
But for psychiatrist Dr Anthony Allen, the issue is a matter of who is more accessible to parents and school administrators whenever a child starts displaying psychotic behaviour. Having spent 40 years in the profession, he believes there is a need for more child psychiatrists in the island to deal with mentally ill children.
"As far as I know, there is only probably two psychiatrists in the government system who are doing child psychiatry and probably there is only one who is full-time for the whole country to my knowledge. The Government needs to have a child psychiatrist in every region full-time." The Sunday Gleaner has since confirmed that there is a general shortage of psychiatrist in the island.
Ade-Gold, who oftentimes refer parents to doctors whenever they come to him, has made a similar observation regarding the shortage of psychiatrists.
"A lot of times, the psychiatrist and nurses would tell them to come next week or two weeks time and they (parents) think this is urgent," explained Ade-Gold.
He lamented that children with mental challenges or learning disabilities are often not given the help they need because parents adopt the notion that everything is spiritual.
"They see everything as demonic, they see everything as the neighbour is attacking my son, or my neighbour doesn't like my daughter, and they attach most of the things to some kind of spiritual issues. And so instead of getting help, they would take the children to places where they would give them all kind of things that would now expose them."