Mental Illness in the Pagan Community
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.
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.
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.
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.
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