Are Mentally Ill Folk Demon Possessed?
"When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 'Lord, have mercy on my son,' he said. 'He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water … Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment."1
A Daily Encounter reader writes, "Please address mental illness and please tell us that we are not demon possessed."
True, there is a demonic world and while I have never personally seen anyone who was demon possessed, I have certainly seen quite a few people who were mentally ill. In fact, there is mental illness in my family background.
I have a relative who is Bipolar who, when a teenager, was told by some well-meaning but ill-informed Christians that his problem was a demon. This caused him to become more depressed. Besides being totally false, what these people said and did was incredibly insensitive and cruel.
I have a friend in her thirties who also suffers badly from Bipolar disorder. Sadly she believes that because she has this problem, she can't be a Christian. Besides being totally false, this is terribly sad and while her illness isn't caused by a demon or demon possession, what she believes is the kind of lie that Satan wants people to believe.
Before another friend was diagnosed as schizophrenic, she was tormented for several years by hallucinations of an ugly, evil face. Some thought this was demonic, but it turned out to be the long-forgotten haunting memory of her great-grandfather who sexually abused her as a young child, and threatened to kill her with a large farmer's knife if she ever told anyone. Her mental illness was not caused by a demon, but the sexual abuse certainly was demonic, evil behavior, and certainly didn't help her mental condition.
I am not a psychiatrist and don't pretend to understand what mental illness is or what causes it, but it is my understanding that Bipolar, for instance, is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and many, if not most, of these people can live very productive lives providing they stay on their medication.
While demon possession is real in some cases, in other cases some mental illness can look like demon possession. However, mental illness itself is not demon possession any more that appendicitis is. Mentally ill people need our acceptance, support, and understanding just as much as (and perhaps even more than) those who are physically ill.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please give me an understanding heart so that I will not be judgmental of those who are mentally ill, but rather, help me to be as Jesus to these people and accept them as you do. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
1. Matthew 17:14-15, 18 (NIV).