Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Mental health disorder or demon possession?

Published:Saturday | May 21, 2016 | 12:00 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston

There are many people suffering from mental health conditions in Jamaica and the sad reality is that their sickness is often not recognised for what it is.

Even persons' own family members often misinterpret sudden changes in behaviour as demon possession or the consequence of obeah.

Even in our churches, 'prayer warriors' and 'prophets' often labour away in deliverance prayers as they seek to cast out the demons.

One of the most common mental illnesses that is often mistaken for demon possession is schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder in which an individual's experience of reality is impaired. It arises from a chemical imbalance in the brain which leads to strange thoughts, strange behaviour and changes in how reality is perceived through the senses.

Family and Religion reached out to psychiatric nurse Fay Robinson-Tee, who has been working for 18 years with mentally ill patients and who now uses music to bring awareness of the issue. She shared some thoughts on schizophrenia, the misconceptions surrounding it, and tips on how the Church and family members can help patients.

Robinson-Tee shared that from her own interactions with a wide range of denominational groups, she is heartened to see a general improvement in persons' perception of those living with mental disorders.

"However, in some instances, there remains the issue of interpreting the behaviours as demon possession, hence suggesting 'deliverance' exclusive of medical intervention."

Robinson-Tee pointed out that there have been some misconceptions surrounding person who are battling this illness, such as thinking that they are intellectually disabled and are incapable of making meaningful contributions to the Church and the wider society.


Doctrinal concept


Robinson-Tee, who is the wife of a pastor and is very involved in the ministry, stressed that demon possession is a doctrinal concept represented in the scriptures. She emphasised that careful consideration must be given to how this doctrine is applied.

"As a seminary graduate, I am of the view that any compromise in a person's health, moreso mental health, could increase the vulnerability to demonic possession or oppression. However, ill-health is not to be seen as synonymous with or the equivalent of demon possession," she pointed out.

The sickness is not limited to adults as Robinson-Tee said that she has seen cases where teenagers have been 'diagnosed' by persons in some churches as being demon possessed, yet the only 'successful' treatment by the Church was that of humiliating and further stigmatising these individuals, leaving them hopeless, fearful and ashamed.

The solution, according to Robinson-Tee, is for the Church to educate itself on the subject of schizophrenia.

"Recognise that persons with schizophrenia are humans with the same basic needs as anyone else. They should be helped as anyone else is helped. Create an atmosphere of acceptance and care through questions regarding well-being, and encouragement to maintain follow-up and acceptance at worship sessions. Families can help by recognising early signs of deterioration in their loved ones' mental status and seek a medical assessment," she said.

She added that once a person has been diagnosed with the sickness, their family members should take the responsibility for arranging follow-up visits to the doctor.

"When an individual makes assertions which they know are not reflective of reality, do not debate or ridicule as this serves to reinforce the false beliefs. Aggression also becomes a possibility as the individual begins to feel threatened," she concluded.