Mental Illness in the Pagan Community

September 10, 2006 at 6:28 am 13 comments

I suspect that a _significant_ portion of the Pagan community suffers from various forms of mental illness. Of course a large portion of the American population suffers from depression and other disorders, but in some ways Pagans are uniquely predisposed to depression. Many people are undiagnosed and untreated, or inadequately treated.

(I also think a lot of Pagans have undiagnosed learning disabilities but that’s a topic for another essay) I’m by no means an expert on this subject, but here are some observations I’ve made.

While the often tolerant and nonjudgmental nature of the Pagan community is greatly beneficial to many eccentric but sufficiently sane people, we may be enabling some bizarre behavior that is a cry for help. Some of these people who think that they are elves and vampires really need to be on medication. Undiagnosed people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can mask their behavior with some kinds of spiritual practices.

Then there’s Gothic subculture in which being depressed can be considered cool or normal.

Environmental Factors

Many people come to Paganism partially because they feel alienated from and out of place in society. An emerging discipline known as Eco-psychology also posits that people’s mental health is adversely affected by their separation/alienation from nature and destruction of the environment. Many Pagans are liberals, and liberals have plenty of things to be depressed about.

Economic Factors

Many Pagans are struggling financially, which can be both a partial cause and effect of depression. Stress and difficulties experienced by poor people can lead to depression, being poor often means going without health insurance. Keep in mind however, that many middle class people don’t have health insurance either. Consequently untreated depression makes more difficult to stay employed, and having difficulty staying in job makes it harder to advance. Others who do have health insurance often have inadequate mental health coverage. Other groups that experience oppression also disproportionately suffer from depression- women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people and people of color.

Spiritual Factors

People who have psychic abilities and openness to the spirit world who are not identified and trained are vulnerable to being deemed insane by a society that does not understand them and actually going insane because they cannot deal with the seemingly unexplainable things they are sensing. Likewise practicitioners of magic, energy work, divination and such often do not feel safe mentioning this aspect of their lives to mental health professionals, lest they be deemed crazy. Psychiatry, which is very much shaped by the assumptions of a secular/materialist, scientific worldview, needs to learn to be more understanding of metaphysical beliefs and practices.

Relation to Other Problems

Depression and other forms of mental illness can lead to, or be caused by other problems, as can alcoholism and drug abuse, insomnia, eating disorders. It is very common for people with learning disabilities, such as ADD, dyslexia and autism to also have depression and/or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Conclusion

Many religious communities have support groups and other resources for members who suffer from mental illness. These kinds of services are desperately needed in the Pagan community. We need to learn from other religious communities and adapt to the needs of our own community.

Edit: changed “large portion” to “significant” 10/05/06

Entry filed under: Health, Pagan Communities. Tags: .

One or Many? Thoughts on Leadership

13 Comments

  • 1. freedy jackson  |  September 13, 2006 at 12:43 am

    There is little or no secular support groups in Dallas/Fort Worth,Tx. area. Everything is gear toward biblically based groups.I guess this is the bible belt and I should’nt be suprised.
    You would think that only “christians” have problems!

  • 2. caelesti  |  September 17, 2006 at 1:33 am

    How strange. Maybe you should try starting one? I’m sure lots of people would be interested in an alternative. (This post by the way is an essay that’s a work in progress, just posting it here for feedback) How did you find this blog, BTW?

  • 3. Victoria  |  October 5, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    Well, as I have just been diagnosed with Clinical depression, and am Pagan, I have no room to talk. But how dare you say that Paganism is for insane people?

  • 4. Mariah  |  October 5, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    I did not mean Paganism is for insane people or that all Pagans are mentally ill.
    I am Pagan myself, so of course I’d never mean to insult it that way. I’m just concerned that mental illness is an issue that needs to be addressed in the community. (there’s also a lot of mental illness and my family, and I myself I have struggled with anxiety & depression at times) I think I will change “large portion of the Pagan community suffers from mental illness” to ” a significant portion” I don’t think it’s the majority of the pagan population, or anything, but I think it’s enough to be a concern.

    This is a sensitive issue, though so I realize the need to tread carefully.

  • 5. wired pasitizzi  |  November 9, 2008 at 5:36 am

    “I suspect that a _significant_ portion of the Pagan community suffers from various forms of mental illness. Of course a large portion of the American population suffers from depression and other disorders, but in some ways Pagans are uniquely predisposed to depression.”

    unquote

    This gross generalization speaks volumes of taking gigantic liberties and a huge stretch with th wide paint-brush of the imagination. This pseudo reflective writer appears to want to write something meaningful about mental health and spirituality, but has not had the depth of experience to really look at a wholistic view of religion as it relates to the psycho-drama of inner growth.

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    my thearapist knows the difrence from me controlling and chanelling energy and my voices so thats good. :)

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  • 8. yana  |  August 9, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Here is my take on the subject. Is there alot of mental illness in the Pagan community? Absolutely! I also believe that mental illness is very under-diagnosed. In society it is unacceptable to say, *I am a Christian that struggles with a mental illness.* Particularly since many Christians believe that such people are demon possessed. Trust me. Christians began trying to cast demons out of when I was a small child because I have Bipolar disorder. Yet Pagans that have a mental illness are not ostrasized from their community for disclosing their mental illness. Pagans are loving, accepting people. I could walk into a Pagan get together and tell them I am a Christian and would be accepted with open arms as long as I didn’t proselytize. What do you suppose would happen if I walked into a church and told them I was Pagan but please keep your preaching and/or comments to yourself? It wouldn’t be long before my keister was on the front steps or they were prying for me.

    I grew up in a Christian church. I watched many people on their knees at the altar sobbing while begging forgiveness for their sins. I watched many people spit, scream, roll on the floor, drool, hit people etc while having *demons* cast out of them. It seems, from my experiences, that mental illness and Christianity go hand in hand.

    My point… I have found in my community the vast majority of Pagans grew up in Christian homes. Studies have proven that any kind of abuse can cause changes in the brain. The hippocampus can shrink causing mental illnesses or other parts of the brain can enlarge. Although I was predisposed to Bipolar disorder, it may have lay dormant throughout my life. However, the abuse was the key which unlocked the monster. Not saying that all Bipolars were abused, by any stretch of the imagination. But I do attend a BP support group and the majority were abused. Probably even more but didn’t feel comfortable admitting it. Research is now finding that the majority of Bipolar Disorder is people who have a history of child abuse as well as the genetic factor… as with many other mental illness, whether they be axis one (clinical disorders) or axis two (personality disorders) (DSM).

    So what happens when someone who grew up in a Christian home was abused? They generally leave the religion, looking for some form of spirituality many end up Pagan. That could explain some of the depression in Pagans you are seeing. Please don’t misquote me as saying all mental illness stems from Christianity.

    Bipolar is a general term I use because I can relate to it. However, I do believe my thoughts apply to all mental disorders.

    As far as the economic factor- perhaps that is your geographical area, or the fact that some are unable to work because of their mental illness. The majority of my community is upper middle class. I am a medical professional that struggles with BP, ADD and a bit of OCD and I make six digits a year. It has been suggested by psychiatrists and therapists that I go on disibilty and I refuse. I will not give in to this illness. Perhaps most wealthy Pagans do not show their face at an outing because they can’t risk it getting out in the community. Perhaps they are solitary or have their own groups. After being in AA for years and never seeing any professionals, I discovered professionals have their own groups. You have to show proof of credentials to become a member. Not that they think they are better – they are protecting their protecting their practice and license. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if professional Pagans have their own groups as well.

    Depression does not always equal mental illness. There are various kinds of depression. Low grade, suicidal, situational, clinical… to name a few.

    It would be nice for the Pagan community to have their own support groups, but I don’t find it necessary. My group has various communities, cultures and beliefs. None of us feel it necessary to announce our religions. We discuss our spirituality without attaching a name. One of my personal pet peeves is when people go around crying discrimination because of religion, race, sex, orientation etc. Why does one feel they need to drag that into every conversation? I have a philosophy I take with me on my journey – take what you need and leave the rest.

    This is really long so I will shut up. LOL

    Don’t get excited, these are only my thoughts.

    BTW… I have never met a Pagan who thought they were an elf or vampire. ;-)

    peace

  • 9. jamiefreeman  |  January 5, 2010 at 7:05 am

    What an interesting post!

    I think folks are having a problem with the word “significantly” which means something specific in the world of statistics and those who use them, which requires data and tests and numbers.

    Statistics show that 9.5% of the US population is depressed or has a depressive type disorder, in a given year. It is likely that everyone will encounter it in themselves or someone they are close to within their lifetime. Maybe it’s not that more Pagans are depressed, but that PEOPLE are depressed. And that we are more open about it than other groups.

    I am a pre-service professional counselor (that is, I haven’t finished school yet), but there is a group of professional Pagan counselors and their allies that discuss these kinds of things. I plan on building a practice around Pagans and their issues. I’ll do some studies while I’m at it and let you know what I find out!

    Good luck with the blog!

    http://www.witchfulthinking.wordpress.com

  • 10. gaia  |  May 17, 2010 at 2:06 am

    This is not an essay as it appears mostly unresearched, there are also many statements which are too general or just plain wrong. Dyslexia for example is not a learning disability!

    Also you state that pagans are often poor, I personality don’t believe that to be the case but I maybe wrong. People do turn to spirituality when depressed or facing financial troubles so it maybe that you’re right. I’d like to see you sighting a few references about that first however. Having said that I think you raise an interesting question but maybe you need to put a little bit more thought and research into it.

  • 11. Caelesti/Mariah  |  May 17, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    This is just a blog post- an online journal entry, most of which do not cite sources, they are not academic articles or essays.
    It was just some preliminary thoughts that maybe I shouldn’t have posted until it was more thought out and researched. That said, it’s from 4 years ago so I think it’s water under the dam. I may just close it to comments.

    The statement about pagans being lower income was based on my experience in my area, it may be different depending on who you know and what area you live in.

    Now what I’m wondering about is your claim that dyslexia is not a learning disability. I know people with dyslexia- it causes difficulties in learning to read, and reading, if that isn’t a learning disability I don’t know what is. So what do you consider it to be?

  • 12. Pagan Psychopath? | Ehsha Apple  |  June 20, 2013 at 2:49 am

    […] like this and its follow-up; here’s another good discussion of the […]

  • 13. Who Are My Followers? | The Lefthander's Path  |  November 13, 2013 at 3:24 am

    […] recently noticed a link to my Mental Illness post from Ehsha Apple’s essay, “Pagan Psychopath?” Excellent research and explanation […]

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