I recently wrote two pieces about Scientology and cults v. religions in the U.S. today.
One of the topics I kept coming back to was the idea that Scientology does not allow psychiatric treatment, yet I have always learned that a certain percentage of people are always suffering from mental illness.
I filed that thought away and next reviewed a book on Christian Science, which has absolutely nothing to do with Scientology. Christian Science seems to promote a spiritual solution to most ailments, including depression. This book, 21st Century Science and Healing with a Guide to the Scriptures was reassuringly modern and not in any way denying the benefits of modern medical treatment. Naturally I had my antenna up, but the book was quite positive and supportive of all physical and mental health care options.
It still made me think quite a bit about the issue of mental health in America. Right then, “The Colorado Coward,” whose name I will not mention for the reason that it makes no sense to boost his fame, in the event that was his motivation, burst onto the scene with a completely horrifying shooting spree and is now answering to multiple counts of murder.
The thought of more people like the coward out there without treatment and proper medication makes me tremble.
Growing up, one of my relatives oversaw a small state psychiatric facility with about a hundred beds. I volunteered there from time to time and even worked for one of its halfway houses during one summer in high school. We also helped military veterans get their benefits, some of them truly mentally ill from the effects of war and trauma.
I’ve seen some mental illness. It sure is sad.
Even the idea of one small psychiatric hospital I mentioned letting all of its patients loose in a regular community causes me to wonder how many people have actually been anywhere near the mentally ill and tried to help them. It is not easy work. Some are violent and unable to be reasoned with, despite all the best training. I applaud those who do it day in and day out.
When I think of the Colorado “coward,” I tend to automatically think “ill” and yet many people think “evil.” Are they the same? One seems like an involuntary state and the other seems quite voluntary. We blame evil people, we pity sick people.
One way or the other, the world has seen no shortage of them, whether evil or mentally ill.
I like to think that this particular Colorado “coward” tried to get himself out of the mindset of violence by going to see a psychiatrist. For many that is a hard step and requires some guts. Many slip into mental illness and never seek help, resulting in suicides and murders all the time. Part of him must have known he was having violent thoughts that he didn’t want. Wow. Such a shame the system failed him, and failed so many.
If this “coward” was ill, we may never know how much he may have tried to fight whatever form of illness that overcame him, and certainly few will find forgiveness for such ruthless killing. I’m not exactly the forgiving type myself, but I will continue to try. In some cases I don’t know whom to blame and to forgive.
In researching some recent articles, I came across plenty of scholarly works on the need to better integrate religion with mental health treatments. For that matter I’ve also seen a lot that claim that religion itself can be the very cause of some mental illness. For the most part in the US many modern religions support the mentally ill in different ways.
Countless criminals claim God told them to commit their crimes. Again, how do we make sense of that?
There have been many postings these past few days by clergy who believe that Satan himself possessed the “coward.” I don’t buy into the notion of Satan as one force, as my whole orientation to the concept of Satan is simply “any adversary.” Perhaps when people do lose their grip they can become adversarial and in that way satanic. And, once crazy moves in to a person’s head, it can be next to impossible to get the person back.
There is some research that suggests that religions can play a positive role in helping the seriously mentally ill to get early treatment. Catholic response to mental illness is still quite varied and seems to “parallel society” according to Anna Weaver in this US Catholic publication.
The Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg, MB issues a guide to understanding mental illness for those suffering and those caring for them, with an Islamic perspective. Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen, at the time a Visiting Senior Research Fellow, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales offered tips for other rabbis dealing with mental illness in their own congregations.
Episcopalians offer a lot of support in diminishing the stigma of mental illness, which is often treated as something the sufferer is not responsible for, but rather an unwanted takeover of their actions. In 1974, they set up the “deliverance ministry,” which can perform religious services to try to thwart the takeover, which must be approved by both a physician and psychiatrist. Actual exorcisms are quite rare and modern psychiatric treatment is generally recommended.
The American Psychological Association tested the views of 47 strongly evangelical churches and concluded that in general, among evangelicals, mental illness is viewed as a spiritual problem. However, evangelicals were prepared to use professional help. Their main concerns were about the beliefs and values of the particular mental health practitioner and they expressed fears about practitioners altering their beliefs and values.
Still, other religions still deny the modern reality of mental illness. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, believed that psychiatrists were behind a worldwide conspiracy to attack Scientology. He thought psychiatrists wanted to create a kind of world government. To this day, Scientologists preach that mental illness is a hoax of some sort and have invested heavily in anti-psychiatry campaigns.
There is no way to make sense out of what looks like violent craziness. Some pray. Some blame God. Some give up on God. There never is an appropriate response to someone stealing the life of a loved one. There never is an excuse good enough.
Can the system do better? Can improved gun control laws really prevent the mentally ill or the evil from destroying innocent lives? Can we, as coworkers or acquaintances of people who may be withdrawing from normal life, do better? Can we as faith communities do better? Can individuals do better on their own behalves if they notice violent thoughts and intentions taking them over?
I remain stumped. What do you think?
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