September 25, 2020

iMonk 101: From Eclectic Christian – My first hand experience with Mental Illness

Today’s Guest Post is from IM First Officer Michael Bell…

As you know iMonk has been running posts lately on the subject of mental illness and how the Bible views it. Here are some interesting thoughts and reflections from Michael Bell, someone who has experienced forms of mental illness in his own family.

I have been following with interest the posts that Michael Spencer has been making concerning mental illness and demon possession. You see, I have had first hand experience with both, in two very different settings. Here is a look at the first.

When I was growing up, my Grandmother, who lived just a couple of miles away, suffered from Schizophrenia. It would manifest itself most when people, usually family, would come to visit. If she misplaced something, she would accuse whoever had visited last of stealing it from her. The incident I remember most clearly was being accused of stealing her piano music to support my non-existent drug habit. Bet you didn’t know that there is a black market for sheet music! It seems pretty comical now, but back then it was anything but. Eventually my parents started cutting back on our visits, as they were just too difficult.

The Schizophrenia that my Grandmother experienced was related to the interaction of dopamine with the dopamine receptors in the brain. I don’t claim to understand all the science behind it, but drugs that act to inhibit this interaction are very effective for those who suffer from this particular malady.

This story hits a little closer to home however. This dopamine condition in the brain is hereditary. Guess who was the genetic recipient? Me!

The way dopamine effected me was outwardly quite evident. Some of the things that I experienced growing included suffering from school yard taunts, being mocked by a teacher, and denied any part in a Sunday School play (until my parents intervened). Later in life, if my condition became evident in a job interview, it would always ensure I did not get the job. Upon graduation from seminary, one district superintendent told me that if a church received 100 resumes for a pastoral position, my application would go to the bottom of the pile.

Over the years, and especially in my younger years, I saw a parade of psychiatrists, psychologists, hypnotherapists, and speech therapists! Speech therapists? Yes, you see the way that the dopamine condition affects me was not the same way it affected my Grandmother! For whatever reason the dopamine problem that I have in my brain did NOT give me Schizophrenia, instead, I suffered from a severe stutter. The two conditions are in my case definitely related and have a hereditary genetic relationship. Although I have never taken them, the anti-psychotic drugs that are used on Schizophrenia patients also work on many adult stutterers as the drugs deal with the dopamine conditions that exist in the brain.

Now here is the interesting part and how it ties back into what Michael Spencer has been talking about. I have heard or read many people speculating about the relationship between mental illness and demon possession. Yet in my forty-six years on this earth, including several years in pentecostal and charismatic circles, I have never had a suggestion made to me that there might be a demonic cause to my stuttering. No one. Not even hinted at.

Why is this? Probably because the most common form of stuttering, developmental stuttering, occurs among younger children, who grow out of it, and it is seen as a normal developmental process. Even among adults who stutter, the individuals are seen as normal rational non-delusional people who have a bit of a disability.

So my question then is, if no one is trying to make a connection between my stutter and demon possession, then how can anyone make the connection between Schizophrenia and demon possession, especially since they are so closely related genetic mental issues? My Grandmother’s illness and my own difficulties are so tied together that to say that there was demonic influence causing her problem becomes totally ridiculous unless you are willing to claim the same for me.

Furthermore, dopamine naturally decreases with age. My Grandmother became a fairly pleasant lady in the years before she died. My stutter has all but disappeared aided by a strict regimen of no caffeine (a stimulator of the dopamine receptors.) If Schizophrenia had a demonic cause, then we would not see so many patients have natural reductions in their illness as they aged.

So my plea is this: Please think twice being trying to make a connection between mental illness and demonic influence, because in the case that I am most familiar with, that link just does not exist.

I look forward to reading your responses.


  1. It is a Travesty how the Church has handled mental illness historically. At one time in my life I wanted to be a “Christian Psychologists” in the line of a Jay Adams. Now I consider most of that as crap. A lot of innocent people (who like you have said, suffer from a physiological dysfunction of the brain) have suffered from the hands of possibly well-meaning Christians who at least attribute the mentally ill person’s problems to their moral failure (or sin) or at worst, as you’ve alluded to, demonic possession.

    I am grateful for my own encounter with mental illness to help me understand and have the compassion that Christ exhibited. Years ago, when I encountered my own personal downfall, I had to work through a list of nutty Christian psychologists (repress memory crap, demonic influences etc.) before I found a secular psychologist who really made sense and helped. It thank God for her.

    I’ve written a lot about mental illness and the Church on my bog.

  2. The area of mental health is so difficult to judge since it is such a new science (relatively speaking) I think suspicion by so many in Christianity has not help our cause. I’m sure you can find evidence of mental illness in the scriptures as opposed to actual demonism but how will we ever know? This field is ever changing, especially now that we are entering into the area of how genetics affect our brains. A few weeks ago I listened in a staff meeting here at Stanford to Dr. David Ruenzel, author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.” Dr. Ruenzel has done ground breaking study on the area of stress and the brain. His book is an easy read, he’s a character and very good. I’m quite sure he’s not a Christian (most likely an athiest, I don’t know) but his discoveries are nothing short of brilliant. His studies on how stress kills slowly, suppressing the immune system, shutting down growth, memory erosion and destroying the ability to learn is profound.
    How all this relates to mental illness, I’m not sure. But, stress does strange things to some people.

    You can read more about him at
    Also, get his book. He’ll keep you laughing as well as teach you something.

  3. Mike,

    Thanks for sharing your story. Like you, I had a severe stutter which started as a child and lasted deep into adulthood. I remember the looks of embarassment from other students whenever a teacher would call on me to talk in class. Two years of French classes in high school were the nearest thing to hell that I could imagine. When I was 35, I heard about a masking device called the Edinburgh Masker. I acquired a Masker, wore it for a year and haven’t stuttered since (I’m 58 now). Also, I take a minimal dose (0.25 mg) of Xanax each day just to keep me relaxed and stutter-free.



  4. Ah yes. High school french class. Thanks for bringing up horrible memories!!! 🙂 It was hell for me too.

    It was about age 35 that my stuttering finally starting coming under control too.

    I would caution people who might find and read this, that medication should be done as a last resort, as the medication that does work can have serious side effects. I have however heard some good things about the “Edinburgh Masker” and similar devices.

  5. Theologically, would it not be more fitting to say that your difficulty, like many psychological or medical difficulties, reflect our fallen nature: imperfect, mortal, prone to functional breakdown in varying degrees (culminating, of course, in physical death). No need to invoke demons every time somebody is sick.

  6. Craig in Kaneohe says

    Chaplain Mike,
    Thank you for your openness and courage in sharing this part of your family life along with your own personal journey. I’m grateful that you survived the early trauma in your life and have become a graceful presence to so many in the hospice ministry. My mother suffered from mental illness (deep depression) for most of her life. She tried to end her life several times. Obviously, this was highly traumatic for me as child. We were members of a conservative brethren church at the time and actively involved( my great grandmother was a founding member). I never sensed judgement from church members, more a sense that they didn’t know what to do. There was that sense of helplessness that often accompanies our encounters with the mentally ill. My mother quit attending church and never returned.

    After completing electro-shock therapy and making one final attempt to end it all (almost succeeded), my mother, bless her heart, got connected with a compassionate psychiatrist who prescribed medication that greatly helped her. She apologized to me and my siblings for the suicide attempts and said she would never do it again. She was true to her word. She passed away a few years ago at the age of 80. I always hoped she would get connected to a church family again (as far as I know she never lost her faith in Jesus) but she never did. I don’t know if it was because of the guilt she felt or if it was just the uncomfortableness of having to engage new people and risk them getting to know her and her story. Blessings.

    • Three Mikes involved here:

      Michael Spencer (aka iMonk) is the owner of the blog.
      Michael Mercer (aka Chaplain Mike) is posting items while Michael Spencer is sick.
      Michael Bell (aka Eclectic Christian) is a contributor to Internet Monk and wrote this article which was then posted by Michael Mercer.

      • Michael, thank you for clarifying. Reminds me of the Irish Catholic family I visited the other day. Every male named Michael. Made it easy in that situation to get the name right. However, in this situation, it was clearly confusing!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Can we just call you Mike to avoid confusion?”
        — Paraphrase of an old Monty Python skit

  7. Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass says

    I’ll tell you why people make the connection between demonic possession and mental illness because I’ve lived it. My mother is a paranoid schizophrenic, whose symptoms began the year of my birth. As you mentioned in your article, her disease manifested itself most prominently among the family. She held a job as a registered nurse during most of my life (frightening, huh?).

    The bitterness, seething rage, manipulative and abusive behaviors were largely in check with those outside the family and on the job. If I had a dollar for everyone who told me “Your mother is such a lovely woman, your mother is so nice!” I would be a millionaire right now. How she could hold herself in check with authority figures and those who could truly retaliate against her was a sight to behold, and caused much confusion to my little mind. [Please don’t write and tell me that is a manifestation of the disease, cause if you can keep your symptoms in check with somebody outside the family, keep it in check with me.]

    What causes me to believe there was a demonic involvement is that there was and is a supernatural element to make these more than just works of the flesh. There was a real glee which she expressed through her malevolence, as well as her knowing things she should have no way of knowing totally in the natural. Furthermore, she has an ability to disrupt our lives at strategically important and times and ways which are like spiritual time bombs, even when we have been 3,000 miles apart and she would have no knowledge of what was going on in my life. There would be no way these can be so strategically timed to wreak maximum damage without the influence of the enemy. Finally, if the demonic weren’t involved, why are the voices whispering to delusional people saying “Kill”, “Murder”, “Stab” “Shoot him” “Attack him” and not “I think I’ll buy her some roses after work tonight and just drop them off at her house?” Why are they not thoughts of peace, kindness, and the thoughts which mirror the fruits of the spirit and not just the works of the demonic?

    Simplistic, yeah, but I lived it, and there was oppressive spiritual darkness there, more than you can just account for with therapeutic protocol.

    • Alice,

      I struggled how to make my concluding statement: “Please think twice being trying to make a connection between mental illness and demonic influence, because in the case that I am most familiar with, that link just does not exist.”

      I did not mean to imply that in all cases this link does not exist, although it may have come across that way. My intent was just to say that we should not always make that association automatically.

    • Patrick Lynch says

      Sounds like you’ve been though a lot.

    • Patrick Lynch says

      Sounds like you’ve been though a lot.

    • you didn’t mention if she refused to take medication. thats a big factor. many PS patients are pretty normail with meds and a good recovery awarness. As for why could she be nice to people outside of the home and nasty to you? well, i think everyone does that to a degree. With mental ilness untreated i think things are magnified ALOT. There is also no gaurantee that somone wouldn’t be abusive or nasty even without being mentally ill. Being constantly paranoid is gonna keep somone from having peaceful thoughts. I have known blissfully mentally ill people but not PS patients. or at least not to many. I’m sorry you had to go through that with your mom.

    • Furthermore, she has an ability to disrupt our lives at strategically important and times and ways which are like spiritual time bombs, even when we have been 3,000 miles apart and she would have no knowledge of what was going on in my life.

      That’s not demonic, that’s just family.

      • Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass says

        At first I wasn’t going to respond to this comment at all, but I would urge everyone to take this as a classic example of what NOT to say to anyone EVER! Not in your ministry, not in your personal life, not on the job, and most certainly never after identifying oneself as a Christian to the listener.

        I believe your comment is borne of your lack of knowledge, experience, compassion and expertise in this area. I also believe that what you have done is to diminish, dismiss, belittle what is one of the most profoundly difficult situations for any person or any family — to have a parent who is severely mentally ill. I would advise you to practice the discipline of being quiet, and of learning to listen without comment, to those who have lived — not days, weeks, months, but for decades — with the devastation and havoc caused by schizophrenia. A good place to start would be to attend family meetings of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and/or read the stories of those who chronicle what their struggle is like.

        Then you would not be flippant as to conflate this with “just family.”

    • Finally, if the demonic weren’t involved, why are the voices whispering to delusional people saying “Kill”, “Murder”, “Stab” “Shoot him” “Attack him” and not “I think I’ll buy her some roses after work tonight and just drop them off at her house?” Why are they not thoughts of peace, kindness, and the thoughts which mirror the fruits of the spirit and not just the works of the demonic?

      I have been a counselor in the secular mental health field ( also do biblical counseling) for 25 years and have thought the exact same thing. The voices that schizophrenics hear are always lies of their worthlessness, to hurt self and others and often lies of shame. Its hard not to wonder what role demonic activity may have – even if it is just that they use these cracks in the flesh to pull vulnerable people futher from God. Demon involvement does not preclude other causes of mental illness.

      • Kim,

        Wouldn’t it be very difficult to separate demonic action from cases like Sarah’s in which she experienced extreme child abuse? The abuse alone would seem to be able to manifest itself in the symptoms you described.

        Also, someone mentioned that their mother functioned quite well as a nurse but not as a mother. I have read that often people who have been raised by unhealthy parents may not manifest the symptoms until they are in the role of the abusive parent. That is, it is only in becoming a parent that the negative behavior will manifest itself. Or if one spouse was abusive to another, it won’t be until their child is a spouse that the abusive behavior will begin. Does anyone have any experience with that sort of history?

        • Lauretta,

          You bring up a good point – because we have two different causes of schizophrenia represented here. Michael is speaking of a genetics-specific causal scizophrenia, while Alice in Wonderland is speaking of “high expressed emotion” causal schizophrania. The difference is dramatic – the first is chemical and neuological in its origins and treatment options; the second is based in developmental and emotional domains and requires a broader and more diverse treatment regimen.

          Scizophrenia is at the extreme end of a category of disorders called “dissociation”. Another variant at that end of the spectrum is what used to be known as multiple personality disorder.

          We all experience mild dissociation from time to time – like when you drive to work and find that, upon your arrival at your destination, you have no recall of the driving experience.T his is a normal function of the mind. In cases where children have experiemced grave emotional trauma or severe developmental issues, this mental function switches on as a defensive mechanism to protect the child through the trauma and after.

          One of the most common examples of this that I have seen in my counseling ministry is with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. When they were very young childrn, their minds created a fantasy world where the child could mentally escape to so that only their body was “experiencing” the abuse. They would dissociate whenever the abuse began. For some of them, this developed into a coping mechanism whenever there was a great deal of emotional stress in their life for other causes.

          These children, as they grow into teen and adult years, can manage and maintain the related behaviors to a great extent – except when they experience those “high expressed emotions”, most commonly from a family member. And, as Lauretta so insightfully asked, this can lay dormant until the person finds himself or herself stepping into the role of either their offender or their non-defender (the person they trurned to for help but who failed to rescue them).

          The treatment regimen for someone with these levels of dissociatve disorder comes very close to that of treating non-genetic schizophrenia. There is a spiritual component to this because there was a spiritual component involved at the outset.

          • Many thanks for all of the wonderful information you have learned from your mental health ministry, Old Lamb. I had one more question. How often is it that someone who has suffered deep traumas such as these at a young age, is able to overcome the damage on their own and/or through their faith. Some counselors say that it can be necessary for an individual to have someone come alongside them to help through the process of healing even if the individual has a deep faith.

            The reason I ask is that we can beat ourselves up thinking that we should be able to overcome things if we have deep faith or others can tell us that we should be able to just choose to get over something in our lives and begin living rightly. What has been your experience with this? Are there times when we need someone to help us heal even if our faith is deep?

  8. I have worked for the past four years supporting vulnerable adults most of whom suffer from mental illness. For me it has been a deeply rewarding and humbling experience and something I believe God has directed me towards. The last thing on my mind is that these individuals are demon possessed. One individual in particular who as a child was told and was prayed over by ‘well-meaning pastors’ to exorcise these demons continues to this day to have an adverse reaction to organized religion. Their stories are much more earthed in the normal stuff of a broken world, usually traumatic experiences from childhood.

    • I truly wonder, too, David, how many of our problems in this area stem from childhood trauma and lack of love. Have you ever read the books of Dr. Conrad Baars? He talks about this quite a lot.

      I apply the scripture about the sins of the fathers being passed to the sons to this situation. The unloving things we do to our children are often, unfortunately, then passed on to our grandchildren keeping the sins transmitting from one generation to the next.

  9. M. Scott Peck, MD writes in his book “The People of the Lie” that most of the people he treated in his psychiatric practice fell into categories we might call “mentally ill”. Yet, he wrote, there were also those rare occasions when he encountered patients or families of patients who were different. These people expressed a malice and “absence of love” that was so profound and so deep that it fell into a category that he viewed to encompass evil. He did not pretend to understand what that meant or how it might be categorized. Instead, the book is a call to study this phenomenon in order to better understand and possibly contain/cure/fight it. It is a fascinating take on this dichotomy, especially since diagnoses of mental illness are grounded in observation of behaviors rather than blood tests.

    • Hi Joan,
      You mentioned Dr. Peck’s observation: “when he encountered patients or families of patients who were different. These people expressed a malice and “absence of love” that was so profound and so deep that it fell into a category that he viewed to encompass evil. He did not pretend to understand what that meant or how it might be categorized”

      I am taking note here because I have been blogging on a few sites where extremist fundamentalists blog and I noticed an aggressive mean-spiritedness that really defied anything I have ever seen before among Christian people. I have tried to understand the reasons they are this way, but I haven’t figured it out and I wondered about emotional illness as a possible causation for what they are presenting. Around Holloween time, I read someone’s comment about people in Christianity being ‘pawns of Satan’. I am not believing this, but I found your information about Dr. Peck’s work to be of interest.
      It’s just that the juxtaposition of Christianity and incredibile mean-spiritedness in some of these people is so jarring and confusing to me, that I really want to know more about what happened to make them that way. My current guess is that they are suffering from some sort of emotional illness or other type of psychological problem. They are aggressive, but underneath all of that aggression, I sense that they are insecure and in pain. It’s a mystery.

      • Patrick Lynch says

        I find it extremely easy to believe the Christians are the pawns of Satan; Jesus said such (Matt. 16:23-etc.), and with a surprisingly less-considered appraisal of his erring disciple’s underlying motivations than you’ve offered here.

        I do wonder whether their pain (and ours!) ultimately matters at all in how we approach the Gospel – we waste reams of words in humanistical calculus about the possible mitigating factors underneath each others’ nastiness, but there’s a sense to me that it isn’t mercy that drives us to think this way, but a kind of timorousness – a reluctance to accept that we’re seeing people loving sin and hypocrisy and hating God and forgetting Him. These are people whose life’s histories are best understood, as ours are, as a series of epochs at which they turned towards and believed in God or did not, and the meandering consequences of their choices belong to Him as much as they do. Some of us are, after all, going to Hell. We can’t sympathize a way out of Hell for others and we can’t qualify our way out for ourselves with our sympathies – I heard it articulated recently that petitionary prayer is as sophisticated as we Christians are good to get with our guesses about one another’s inner lives, and the work of the Kingdom describes the whole scope of our business concerning other people’s problems. If it’s that simple, we could probably spend a lifetime caring for the people around us without an eyebrow of ours ever feeling the weight of another coarse cleverness or lurid extrospection.

        To me, that perspective sounds fascinating. – not that I bother myself with that kind of practical philosophy. I’m honestly much more interested in conjecturing about people and their pains and insecurities myself.. look at all the lines I just wasted trying to make a comment about sanctimony!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It’s just that the juxtaposition of Christianity and incredibile mean-spiritedness in some of these people is so jarring and confusing to me, that I really want to know more about what happened to make them that way.

        “Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as at the very foot of the altar!”
        — Screwtape

    • If Joan is recommending Scott Peck’s book “People of the Lie”. I’ll second that. I don’t know if the case studies in the book tell much about mental illness or not, but if you want to gain insight into some outright evil behavior, disguised as the middle-class American family, this is the book.

  10. Michael,

    Thanks for sharing this. I was completely unaware of the dopamine connection between schizophrenia and stuttering. That was fascinating. I was fully expecting you to say that you were schizophrenic. Never saw that one coming.

    Anyway, in the church where I serve, we’ve had two suicides in the past 4 years. Both were young men. One was obsessive/compulsive and depressed, and the other was schizophrenic. These experiences have influenced our body in some profound ways. As a church, we’ve become much more proactive in offering support to families and individuals struggling with mental illness. We truly grieved over the loss of those two young men.

    While I agree that we should be cautious in trying to draw any conclusions about the spiritual component of mental illness, I know that in the case or our schizophrenic young man that his behavior was extremely bizarre at times. For most people, he seemed to be a character right out of the biblical possession stories.

    I would agree with what Craig said. With the exception of a few knuckleheads, most of our people were compassionate, but felt incredibly helpless. Most church folk are completely unprepared to deal with a young man who claims to be a Mayan medicine man and says that he communicates with the spirits of animals.

  11. Hi Michael:

    I greatly appreciate your honesty and openness in sharing your story. I too have struggled with mental illness all my life–I’m 56 years old–though my problems came about as a result of extreme child abuse. The abuse was so extreme that I had to become multiple practically from the time i was born. It was the only way I could physically survive. I also suffered from severe depression from the time I was a very small child, because there was never anyone to help or protect me, and I felt like my hellish existence would NEVER, EVER end. I tried suicide nine times as an adult, and fortunately never succeeded, though I came pretty close a number of times. People might say that, with nine attempts, I wasn’t really serious about dying, but in truth, I was. That was one way being multiple actually saved my life–I had one alter who truly wanted to live (out of our multitude she was the only one, but she had a VERY strong desire to stay alive, I think imbued by God). She would come out and call 9-1-1 everytime I made an attempt. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be alive to write this.

    During the many years of being multiple–I’m now integrated and have been since 2003–there were many times when Christians would decide I was demon-possessed, and would pray accordingly, because different alters would come out and speak for themselves. They would pray to cast out my alters, and then would blame me for not having enough faith, or for resisting God, when the alters wouldn’t leave. They never stopped to consider that maybe they COULDN’T leave because they weren’t demons at all, but rather fragmented aspects of my personality. I’ve come to firmly believe that multiplicity is actually a gift from God to help a child survive what is otherwise unsurvivable.

    I fully understand and recognize the biomedical/biochemical aspects of illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. I think Christians resort to the label of demon possession to explain away mental illness precisely because they do feel helpless. People don’t like to feel pain, and they feel an intense need to be able to control what they cannot understand. A person in the middle of a psychotic break ofttimes behaves in incomprehensible ways, and if someone can’t do anything to make it better, it’s just easier to blame it on demons than to admit they don’t know what to do. Being able to say that such a person is demon-possessed is an easy way to explain away otherwise utterly baffling, bewildering, and inscrutable behavior.

    Having said all that, I do believe there are times when at least some aspects of a mental illness can be explained by demonic influence, and the case of Alice’s mother (refer to the comment above) is a prime example. I grieve for all that she has suffered at the hands of her mother. I think the story of Sybil (the true story of a woman whose abuse at the hands of her schizophrenic mother caused her to become multiple) is another illustration of this. Sybil’s mother was, fundamentally, a very angry and bitter woman who was diagnosed as schizophrenic when Sybil was a small child, and even though her father knew that her mother was seriously dysfunctional, he did nothing to protect Sybil from her devices. Everytime I read her story I’m impressed most by just how evil her mother really was.

    I guess the point I’m really trying to make here is that almost nothing in life is as simple–or simplistic–as we try and make it out to be. Most people, however, aren’t willing to look deeper than the surface to find their answers. By neglecting what’s hidden beneath the sometimes bizarre behavior of, for example, a schizophrenic, or the halting speech of a stutterer, they deprive themselves, and more importantly, the person with whom they’re dealing, of a richness of interaction and life that would greatly enhance their own lives were they to allow themselves to get involved. If they were to search beyond the behavior, they would more than probably find an amazing person who would enrich their lives beyond anything they could imagine. I’ve found that people who have suffered greatly in this life are some of the most interesting and wonderful people I’ve ever known, and I wouldn’t trade my friendship with them for anything.

    Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your thoughts. I hope what I’ve said makes sense, and is comprehensible, and I also hope I won’t offend anyone who might read what I’ve written.

    • Sarah, somehow I missed your story when I read through the comments the first time. What a beautiful person you are!

      I don’t know if you are still reading here, but if you are, I would be very interested to know what or who helped you to uncover and deal with all of these issues in your life. Your story offers so much hope to those who have suffered similar traumas in their lives.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  12. thanks for sharing, sarah. i would just say as a family member of someone with mental illness that we should remember that this is a family illness. my kids and i are coming to grips with the leftover junk that we suffer as we struggle to help someone with this illness. and, there are times that i wonder why can’t i be the one who hides under the covers. because that seems to be a nice option. i know that that’s not a reasonable response, but sometimes life is too hard for reason. anyway, thanks for the conversation, and demonic possession, or not, Jesus wants you to see a competent medical professional to help fight the demons with appropriate medication.

  13. Thanks for sharing. I had the same issue but with different chemical. and for me it ran o my mothers side of fmily. Noreprinepherine was the missig link for me. that and the awareness of my condirion has changed my life.

  14. Thanks, Michael Bell. I have a panic disorder, and the chemical that makes the difference for me is serotonin. One of the places I used to have my worst attacks was…church. There were times I wondered idly if there was possession at work (only idly, now, because I didn’t have any problem praying, or reading the Bible, and my attacks only happened during services, not if I was at the church for a meeting, Bible study, or what have you). Of course the other sure-fire place I’d have a panic attack was the mall — and I’m thinking Satan’s gotta love the mall. 🙂

    Medication has made a profound difference for me (1/2 of an SSRI anti-depressant a day, and I’m good to go; I only need the occasional, mild tranquilizer). And my pastor’s wife is one of the people most responsible for giving me the courage to try it (er…because I’d also panic going to the doctor). I’m glad your condition has responded to treatment and lessened with age.

    Alice and Sarah, peace and strength to you both.

  15. Having had to deal with mental illness in my family, I have mixed feelings from reading this.

    While I don’t believe that all mental illness has a demonic component, some does. And some is the result of years of wrong thinking.

    “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is” is more true than many wish to admit. I believe that depression begins when we lose track of what is positive in life. This reinforces ways of thinking that only spiral down. I believe that constantly dwelling on the negative changes the way a person’s brain functions, even the way it is wired. Depression becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy

    The rate at which Americans are being diagnosed with mental illness is out of control. The number of people on psychoactive drugs is mushrooming at unheard of speeds. There is something definitely wrong.

    Is that doctor ambition and fear of lawsuits, or is it a demonic thing? Both? And what is the spiritual component of mental illness that we are overlooking?

    It’s a complex topic. And we Christians have not found a middle ground, as we tend to veer from one extreme or the other in dealing with mental illness. I’m not sure anyone out there is treating it from the middle ground, which is a great loss to the healing community and those who suffer from mental illness.

    • Hey Dan,

      Thanks for your comment. For those of you not familiar with Dan, I make reading his blog a regular part of my daily routine. You will find it at

      I agree that this is a complex topic. I am not sure how we define the middle ground though. The extremes would say it is either all spiritual, or all having nothing to do with spiritual. But is the middle ground to say it is both? Or is the middle ground to say that some is spiritual and some is not? Or is the middle ground to say, some is spiritual, some is not, and some is both. That third options is probably where I would pitch my tent. But then I would want to add a large caveat that says that I am not an expert in the field, just someone who has had some experiences.

      My first post gave an example of where it was definitely not spiritual, I hope to have a followup post giving an example of where (at least in my mind) it definitely was a spiritual issue.

      • To the question, “Is it physical or spiritual?” I answer: yes. It’s “both/and” not “either/or.” We are physical beings and we are spiritual beings, but we can’t dichotomize the two. Our bodies and suffer in many ways, through illness and injury, and our spirits are so interlinked with our bodies that if one suffers, the other one does too. As far as whether the cause is demonic, I think perhaps we give the devil too much credit. Sin has thoroughly corrupted our world, including our brains, so why should mental illness be blamed on the devil and not say, cancer? (I know some people would go so far as to say that, but I think it’s rather extreme.)

        I agree with some of the other comments on here that if the cause was solely spiritual in nature, then medications would not help the problem. The same would be true if depression (or whatever mental illness) was caused by unconfessed sin– no psych med can remove the conviction of the Holy Spirit or the supposed torment of satan. If meds help someone feel better, and in my experience, if the meds actually allow someone to feel well enough to seek God, then by all means, take them!

        This subject is close to my heart because mental illness runs in my family as well as my husband’s, and last month my husband was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for 6 days for suicidal ideation. He had bought a shotgun, but praise God, he ended up driving to the psych hospital and got help. They changed his medication, and he is markedly better now. Of course, sin is all wrapped up in mental illness, because his mental illness made him more prone to certain types of sin, and I often sinned in reaction to his illness (and as our counselor always says, that doesn’t excuse the problem, just explains it). Mental illness or not, we are all still accountable for our actions; in which case, one would be wise to seek all the help they can get to make living with their mental illness more manageable.

    • I agree and disagree. The brain might be the most complex mechanism in the universe. Depression and other problems can arise from environmental and genetic factors. So if we use a verse like. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is” we greatly simplify a complex issue. A person who is depressed (not just having deprssive periods or thoughts) doesn’t think he is depressed , he is depressed. Also, There is a big difference between being diagnosed and simply getting a prescription. people who start medication for a disorder often go off after a period because the side effects are to much. Or, as I have heard many times, ” they didn’t seem to make a big differaence” which tells me that they weren’t a ” legit” canadiate ” in the first place.
      I think a middle ground or as I would call it a “contextual/rational perspective” would do wonders in churches.
      Clearly, environmental factors can play a part in mental illness , especially things like alcohal and drug abuse. even then if a person shows the symptoms , I would think they are the result of sin playing itself out rather than “posession”. Just my two cents worth. you make some good points.

  16. I think it would be ‘merciful’ (but painful) for everyone to experience JUST ONE panic attack at least in their adult life time. Why? So that they would understand the terror and suffering of those who must deal with these on a regular basis.
    The experience would put a stop to those who felt ‘free’ to comment on the situation of others without having ever been through the suffering themselves.
    Not that I wish suffering on any soul. Just this: that, in God’ s great mercy, He enables people to depart from judging that which they cannot understand. And that, in His great mercy, He teaches compassion to those of the entrenched hard-core judgmental, in the only way that they can understand: experentially.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I think it would be ‘merciful’ (but painful) for everyone to experience JUST ONE panic attack at least in their adult life time.

      I have experienced a full-honk panic attack, back around 1980. Sudden onset, high intensity, two-three days duration. There’s only one way to describe it, and that’s in D&D terminology:

      It’s being hit with a Fear spell and rolling a one on your Save. For real.

  17. If demons exist in the form that are able to taunt people who are vulnerable, then I imagine in cases of certain types of schizophrenia they would have a field day. But they would be the harassers of an already-existing situation, not the originators. At least, that’s the way I see it. Great post, thank you for sharing 🙂

    • How does anybody test this kind of ‘observation’? How is it useful or helpful?

    • I’m beginning to think the ones possessed or ‘influenced’ by demons are the ones who make life for the emotionally and mentally ill more difficult by imposing their own ‘knowledge’ in an area where they have no experience or expertise.
      The way I see it, the demons work on people’s pride, so that pride becomes more pre-eminent in their lives than compassion and empathy for others. Seen in that light, we begin to understand a world where a severely psychotic, mentally-ill mother drowns her five children and then is treated as though she was completely in her right mind when she drowned them. People are so ready to judge what they do not understand. And they are so ready to make others bear the results of that judgment, and there are ALWAYS results. The mentally ill suffer at the hands of these people, sometimes terribly.
      There are demons at work, all right. They’re out there.. . .

  18. This has been an interesting discussion to read through. I am a student occupational therapist who is currently finishing up my masters and will likely begin to practice next year. One area that I have become particularly interested in is working with individuals who are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

    I believe that this type of condition is really relevant to the discussion. Michael Bell asked why we don’t usually discuss stuttering as the work of demons and I would further ask why we don’t attribute dementia to the work of demons.

    Individuals living with dementia often display similar behaviors to those living with other forms of mental illness (e.g., paranoia, aggression, depression, inappropriate sexual behavior, losing track of time and place). I have never heard Alzheimer’s disease compared to demon possession.

    Medical/physiological issues that deal with the brain are incredibly complex. For better or worse our ability to express ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically on this earth are intricately connected with our central nervous system. If you mess around with someones brain you mess around with how that person is able to be and act in this world. The famous case study of Phineas Gage ( is an example of this. How and if demons are involved in these conditions and illnesses seems beyond my grasping but surely God knows.

  19. Brother Bell: Great article!
    If demons were responsible, how would a dose of Lithium correct the problem? Would you not just get a doped up demon? If Jesus said these only come out by prayer, how do you explain the benefits of medicine? I was once told i could never be a pastor because my degree is in Psychology, and that is all of the Devil. There is a certain ignorance in our midst.
    I have spent a lot of time around schizophrenics, and can understand the apparent connection. The eyes, the laugh, it is the stuff of horror movies. Pray you get the right prescription, the right doctor, and the right church. Mental illness is a burden quite hard enough to bear without being branded as possessed.

  20. Unfortunately in my experience, most american churches are only for the highly functional and those bent towards extroversion. As a sufferer ( and by sufferer, I don’t throw that word around, the mentally ill are tortured day in and day out) I believe I am saved by Christ alone and I pray the Lord will have mercy on me so I don’t forsake the assembly as His word instructs in the book of Hebrews. But it takes alot of energy, courage, strength and resilience to be around “Christians”. Just my experience, please pray for me!

    • Hello Dee,
      Most ‘Christians’ are on a journey. They, like children, don’t see everything or understand everything yet. That, we are told, in Scripture: now we see as through a glass darkly . . . ‘
      Your presence among them will help them in some way on that journey. I’m not sure how.
      But they will be helped. If they have, in their ignorance, hurt you or discouraged you, forgive them and pray for them and they will be strengthened in time. Sounds like they may be in as much difficulty as you are, just a different kind. In praying for them, you also will find some peace.
      I went through a difficult time for about three years, and as I look back, I think it was a kind of ‘growning pains’, and I emerged from it with more understanding and more compassion for people. I don’t understand how it worked that way, exactly, but things happen to us for a reason, and sometimes we are placed among certain people for a reason. I’m sorry y ou are suffering. May the Lord Christ send His Angels to surround you with His Love and protect you, , and may they lead you to that high rock, where you will find shelter from your pain.

  21. John Bressett says

    Michael Bell; Great discussion and blessings on Michael Spencer. I pray he gets well soon. I am a veterinarian with many years of experience married to a pharmacist also with years of practice in her field. My question to the clinical people reading this post and I guess to Willoh specifically are these. What is your explanation for drug failures? Wrong diagnosis? Patient variability? Or could it be we are more than our chemistries. I know of no field of medicine that uses polypharmia like the mental health field. One drug follows another to combat the side effects of previous meds. I know of one patient admitted to a local emergency department on 14 different meds for their mental illness. Is it possible that on occasion a spiritual problem is being treated with drugs? Also, how are we to interpret the scriptures dealing with demonic possesion and their seeming manifestation as mental disease? I think it would be patronizing if we didn’t give the early Christians credit for recognizing aberrant behavior when they saw it. I agree with the poster who said how come people with demons never suggest that they love only kill or murder. Great discussion. Thanks

    • Chemistry has lots to do with it. Just like any other type of medication, psych drugs work for some and not others. We still lack so much knowledge about the human mind, it’s going to take decades to understand, like the deep ocean. Mental illness can be mild or severe. It can come and go – like my depressive episodes do.

    • Drug Failures happen all the time- including outside of treating mental illness. Drs just get things wrong sometimes – after celebrating my daughters 1st year in college after being told 19 years earlier she would not survive her first year of life, I am happy to have Drs, but don’t think of them as all knowing

      And in the mental health field, it is only half of the field that uses meds – psychologists cannot prescribe meds (however many of them are frustrated that they can’t because sometimes it is needed).

      I would agree that some psychiatrists are pill pushers – every problem has a solution in one – but not all are like that.

  22. I think this is a topic where great care and distinction are important. We have to distinguish between conditions that are a) medical/chemical b) psychological c) demonic in origin. Some conditions may be a mixed bag, but first you have to try to treat them according to a) and b), before you can conclude that it may be c), after all.

    As far as I know, the Catholic Church does this very diligently when an exorcist is called for. First, the patient has to have an accurate medical and psychological diagnosis. He or she must also show symptoms that are inexplainable medically and clearly point to a spiritual reason (knowledge of languages, events and places the patient could not know; sudden and abnormal growth in physical strength; horror of anything related to God, such as holy water, churches, the Eucharist, crucifixes etc.). Only then is an exorcism (which is basically a set of prayers and rituals) performed. According to exorcists, real demonic obsession is also quite rare; more often, people may rather be “surrounded by demons” (circumsessio), often without being aware of it; this most often occurs with people dabbling in the esoteric and the occult.

    But I also think that some mental conditions, especially some cases of depression, may have spiritual reasons, but not demonic ones, rather relating to the relationship with God: such as having lost one’s reason to live or being unable to deal with guilt. A priest/psychiatrist I know even used to say that there would be less mental illness, if people went to Confession more often! Of course, this bon-mot only deals with those cases where the real issue is with God. He is saying that Confession would eliminate those cases where the reason of the depression is really guilt and sin, not that it would eliminate all depression or even all mental illness. Mental illness is real illness – it is part of our brokenness, like all sickness…

  23. Here is a Scripture connecting demonic activity to a speech impediment:

    “As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel” (Matthew 9:32-33 KJV).

  24. Very interesting topic. I found this quote from Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche:

    “Love has a transforming power. It is first and foremost a revelation of a person’s essential, fundamental beauty and value. If nobody reveals to children their innate beauty and value, they will never know the importance and the meaning of their life. They will hide behind sulking, depression, violence, aggressive attitudes or will try to prove their brilliance. When they are listened to and loved they begin to discover what it means to be human. Little by little they become more trusting and want to live more fully. They realise they do not have to defend or prove themselves or always be at the centre of the stage; they have a place, they belong.”

    There are those who have discovered that when we are not loved in healthy ways, it can have profound effects on us in many ways–even to the point of changing our brain chemistry. What do you think about that as a possible source of some of these problems?

  25. This has been a great post and ensuing conversation. Mental health is one of my biggest interests. To ask a question following on Lauretta’s comment, is it possible that the change seen in the brain’s chemistry isn’t always the cause of mental illness, but instead the effect? I’ve wondered this before but know next to nothing concerning mental pathophysiology or neurology. Is it possible a person’s thinking patterns and actions actually produce a detrimental effect in their physcial makeup?

    I personally used to suffer from OCDs, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, derealization, and depersonalization. Since then I’ve found a healing that I believe is summed up in the words of Christ, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Cognitive behavioral therapy, or changing one’s thinking patterns, is being touted by many mental health professionals as one of the most effective treatments available to the mentally ill. I see strong corollaries between CBT and Jesus’ statement. In my case, once I encountered the truths of Christ’s love and began to step out in faith into that supportive love the gradual but steady healing began. This stepping out was realized in very practical steps called “exposure” in CBT, basically putting yourself in anxiety-triggering situations.

    Once I quit playing the role of a victim and faced these fears head on I began to step onto a plane of confidence and abundant life I never thought I would apprehend. I never went to get professional help with these things, but I believe if I had there is a high chance that I would have been put on medication, and who knows where I would be now? I believe that this whole issue of mental illness is largely a subjective experience with a few objective underpinnings. My journey in this could be largely different from that of someone else’s. I don’t claim to know enough about any of this to discount a possible role for medication; all I can do is attest to my own healing sans meds and suggest to others this could be a possible route for them.

    One last sidenote: I’m writing about some of the less exaggerated forms of mental illness. The ones where although the people are suffering greatly, their reality testing remains entact. Psychotic disorders are a different subject. To reiterate someone else’s post, it is interesting that these disorders generally manifest themselves in a malevolent manner with violent or perverse inclinations. This isn’t necessarily indicative of anything, but needs to be considered more I think.

    • Tim, were you able to discover a source for your fears, etc? Do you think they were environmental, genetic, or other?

      My daughter suffered from panic attacks while in college. She went to a doctor but refused to go on medication. She found great help in talking with others who had suffered from the same problem and was able to deal with them until they gradually subsided and went away. I was always suspicious that hers were a physical problem since they began after a severe case of mono. Upon research, I discovered that mono can affect the adrenal glands and I truly believe that they were just malfunctioning for awhile. I think it has been years now since she has had any problems.

      Often I think it would be difficult to know which came first–changes in the brain or the unhealthy behavior. I know that I have read articles claiming that a mother’s stress level can affect her unborn baby’s brain plus a severe trauma when young can do the same thing to a child. These are very complex issues, it seems to me.

      • I’m not really sure what the cause was. I think we all have predispositions to certain things, and for my 24 years of life that was anxiety, up until a couple of years ago. I think in a general sense the cause was fear. Fear of embarressing myself in front of others by having a panic attack, which ironically causes one. Fear of going crazy. Fear of not being able to breathe. Fear of detaching from reality. I believe fear is at the root of much of mental illness. Glad your daughter is better. My panic attacks stopped after I finally faced one. I always used to run from then by trying to escape the situation. Generally they were the worst when it felt like I was in a situation I couldn’t escape, like sitting in church. So if I started suffering derealization or trouble breathing I would just get up and leave or go to the restroom. The first time I decided to not run I was in church, and just simply endured it. It probably lasted under a minute, it passed and I was fine. After that it finally registered in my subconcious that there was nothing to fear and haven’t had a problem with them since. Your right though the problem can definitely have a physical problem like adrenal glands or thyroid problems.

        • You describe panic attacks exactly as my daughter did. Church and classrooms were difficult for her as well and she loved both so it was very difficult for her. She used to always position herself in a room so that she could always have an “quick escape” and often just knowing that she could get out made it possible for her to stay when the fear came. She overcame the attacks as you did by allowing he rational mind to talk her through the very scary symptoms–accepting that she was not dying even though her body made her think that she was.

          Interestingly we had a nephew who was pre-teen when he had mono–he developed panic attacks as well. My husband had mono as a young adult and he didn’t have panic attacks but he developed extreme fears of everyday things–like certain driving conditions, work, etc. We are certainly complex beings and it is so difficult to discern what is the cause and what is the effect.

          • There is a condition called PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with Group A streptococcal infection) which results in OCD after a strep infection due to autoimmune attack on the brain.


            It is humbling to realize we are animals after all. If even our thoughts can be affected by physical means then we really aren’t in control.

          • How interesting, ATChaffee. I hope this is well-known in the medical profession so the children can be treated appropriately.

  26. Allen Krell says

    As someone who has lived with a spouse suffering from Schizophrenia, I became convinced that for her there was both a mental and spiritual component. As she entered a time of life of complete rebellion against God, the mental and spiritual aspects intertwined in a way that comes across as pure evil. It became impossible to know where the mental aspect stopped, and the spiritual rebellion started. Often, a ‘normal’ person can enter a time of rebellion against God and hide it from the world, but a person who suffers Schizophrenia and, in addition, rebels against God, can head down a path that seems to be pure evil.

  27. I have Bipolar and schzoprenia and I have to say I had demomic p[ossession and was delivered.It is unfair though to say that all people that have it or have voices have demons in them. I don’t mean to offend people though. I have mamy articles I have written on mental illness if youare interested

  28. wow – fascinating story – thank you! I have wondered about this. I am a Christian who has suffered from severe depression ( and sometimes definitely feel like it’s spiritual. At the same time, the antidepressants make it much better. I guess my (inadequate) answer would be that everything is connected…

    • “that everything is connected” sums it up. Emotional, mental, physical, spiritual are all interconnected. As someone who lived with a spouse with Schizoprenia, and have myself suffered times of intense sadness, work on all the aspects. If you try to fix one without the others, success is unlikely.

  29. Just ran across this post today…reminds me of a funny conversation between my fiance and I one day talking about exorcisms.

    Me.. “wait, Do Nazarenes do Exorcisms?” (We’re Nazarene by the way, lol)
    Fiance…”No hun, we’re Protestants, we medicate our demons.”

    Which is true for the most part. My early Christian walk took place in very charismatic circles since I’ve grown to know better and see much of the theology taught to me as wrong. Now I’m not bashing Charismatics in general, but certain strains of beliefs and practices are not Biblical as you can also finds in the many other Christian denominations.

    As a border-line bipolar, I often thought a.) I was demon possessed b.) Out of God’s favor or C.) not faithful enough to receive a healing. I went years un-medicated being tormented by these three conclusions I drew out. And plus, I felt I couldn’t open up, it was a hush hush, don’t share type deal. Once I became medicated and by this time went through counseling at my university, grown more in faith, I understood that it didn’t have much to do at all with God’s favor, faith , etc. I believe the Church doesn’t know to appropriately view mental illness, but happy to say, taking a step toward understanding and altering their perspective. I see this with church hiring professional counselors, workshops, group meetings, and helpful literature. Praise God for the Spirit that opens the eyes of the blind and brings His Church close to the perfect body intended to be.

    Thank you for being so open! Blessings to you Bro.


  30. I agree with many of the people who post here about the inappropriateness of “christian”psychologists, pastor, counselors and well-meaning laymen who apply their own craziness to problems whose symptoms can be comfortably treated with psychiatry and medicine.

    Having said that… it has been my experience that every form of illness, mental or otherwise is caused directly by infernal influence, inhabitation, or whatever term you want to use for malevolence that is squatting in a house that doesn’t belong to it. I have seen fake “exorcism”, fake “healing” demonstrations of all kinds of hysterical, magical thinking nonsense, but just because most of it it fake doesn’t mean that the True doesn’t exist.

    Sounds radical I know, and for years my experience seemed so unique that I was sometimes tempted to doubt what I saw with my own eyes. I was grateful often to have run across a book that made reference to a historical figure who apparently had my exact experience, a mystic, healer and teacher. Christians memorize this book, quote it chapter and verse, and carry it around like a totem but I have found it to be most useful as a reference, guide and a sanity check: it relates events that happened to other people, although long ago, that have been also happening to me. Nothing like the confirmation of someone else’s similar experience.

    Now, I am not likely to spit in the dirt and rub it in your eye but if you have a difficulty that nothing else has been able to address, whether stuttering or life threatening disease, are tired of treating the symptoms and would like to look at the root cause of things then I’m willing to share what I know.