Before we go any further in a discussion about spirit possession it might not be a bad idea to address the sceptical concern that possession is nothing more than mental Illness. Believe it or not, I actually share their concern that many cases of mental illness can be confused with spirit possession. In the majority of these cases the symptoms can be remedied not by exorcism but my medication.
Certain kinds of mental illness are the culprit for tales of demonic possession. Allow me to illustrate with a personal story. When I’m not out hunting spooks, spectres and ghosts I work in a residential treatment facility, a counsellor of sorts. We deal primarily with kids who run afoul of the law and kids who have been removed from the home due to neglect or abuse. However, we also deal with kids who have mental illnesses and that are how I met “Jimmy.”
About 8 years ago a young boy came into our care that was seriously ill. Jimmy believed that demon voices that resided in his stomach were telling him that everyone was out to get him and him to kill to survive. One night, Jimmy flew into a rage and tore apart his room because the demon voices told him to. When we tried to subdue Jimmy, he pushed me so hard against a wall I got a slight concussion. Keep in mind Jimmy was 80 pounds and back then I was pushing 330. From what I understand Jimmy has disappeared never to be seen again.
To some who believe in spirit possession, Jimmy was possessed by demons but I assure you Jimmy was severely mentally Ill. Jimmy, like his father, suffered from schizophrenia.
If having ‘the blues’ every once in a while is the common cold of mental illness, schizophrenia is most definitely the cancer. Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in late adolescence or early childhood although psychiatrists are beginning to see more cases in children as young as ten. Leading many to believe that a genetic component is involved. But what is it about this illness that would lead some to think the sufferer was possessed by demons?
Schizophrenia is characterized by a complete break with objective reality. The patient may have bizarre auditory and visual hallucinations and paranoid delusions that humans and creatures, including spirits, are out to get them. Schizophrenics have also been known to be incredibly violent towards people as they have understanding what is real or fake anymore. Sufferers have been known to live in squalor, lose all interest in personal hygiene and have been known to eat their own feces. Some believe that the demon possessed man who called himself “Legion” in the bible may have been in reality a schizophrenic.
Bi-polar disorder, like schizophrenia, can feature hallucinations although they are less intense. With this illness patients experience mood swings that cycle between a manic state and a depressive state. While in a depressive state, sufferers may shut themselves off from the world and as their depressive state worsens many take their own lives.
When experiencing a manic state, the sufferer may seem like the happiest person in the world. They’re funny and seem to be full of energy but while in this state they may engage in risk taking behaviours that put their lives and the lives of others in Jeopardy. While in this manic state the patients might think they are super human and will go to great lengths to prove it. These mood swings, depending on the severity, might make some believe that something spiritual is at work.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
When my uncle returned from Viet Nam he was not the same. He drank to excess, had horrible night terrors that kept him awake and if there was a loud bang my uncle would curl up in a corner and sob uncontrollably. My uncle, like many others who came back from war suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. An illness that can feature frightening hallucinations and flashbacks.
Most people associate PTSD with those who return from war. However, anyone who suffers traumatic events like abuse or a bad car accident can be diagnosed with PTSD. Many of the kids I work with who endured abuse at the hands of an adult have these flashbacks or hallucinations that put them right back in the trauma they endured.
The human brain is our most powerful tool. However, it is also fragile and can be traumatized easily. Despite the fact that we live in a more enlightened time, mental illness is still highly misunderstood. The very thought that a person suffering mental illness is somehow demon possessed is not only insulting it takes us back to a day when fear based superstitions reigned supreme.