Mental health : It isn’t demonic possession, it is a skeptical issue.

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Martin Luther- who started the Protestant Reformation in Germany- believed that crazy people were possessed by demons. How could we possibly think that correcting misconceptions about mental health isn’t a skeptics’ issue and an atheists’ issue? Is it just that it hadn’t been given the spotlight before?

Well, if we haven’t, there is good reason. Nobody wants to be seen as… broken. Even if our species no longer believes crazy people are possessed, the negative stigma and the judgment still linger. If I make comments about being obsessive compulsive at the library where I work, it is in the context of joking about how useful it is: because nobody puts things in perfect order like the person who triple checks everything. But talking about it in a serious way? Oh hell. If I explain how I would always retraced my routes as a child, as though I was attached to an invisible string which would get knotted if I didn’t return the same way I went, never going around the other side of that house if I came around it on this side, the anxiety I felt if I didn’t… if I talk about checking doorknobs and the fridge door three times every time I lock the one or shut the other… if I explain that my reading speed has slowed since I was a kid because I have developed a habit of checking the space between pages to see if I left a makeshift bookmark in between them – despite not having used bookmarks for years, since I memorize the page numbers – if I, worst of all, talk about my lack of ability to motivate myself to do things despite my great passion for those things… my depression…

That is terrifying. It makes me worry that people won’t bother to notice that I can triple check things as fast as many others check them once. Because I’ve had to become that fast. If I wasn’t that fast, people would notice. It is terrifying that people might misconstrue anxiety for expectation, it is terrifying that people take responsibility when it isn’t theirs to take. I am not depressed because of my parents, or because of my friends, and despite my wonderful wife’s tears and anxious questioning, I am certainly not depressed because of Emily. I am depressed because I suffer from depression, not because of outside factors.

If outside factors were the cause, I wouldn’t bother with sad – I’d go straight to ‘angry.’ I’m good at that, I’m an activist at heart and if you can’t see reasons to be angry with the world as it is than you aren’t looking hard enough. And as an activist, I will deliver a call to action. But I am a pragmatist, and I know a superior rallying call when I see one – over to JT Eberhard, who alternates between causing laughter and tears:
http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd/2011/11/25/why-the-skeptic-community-must-convern-itself-with-mental-illness/

Also, here is a link to Jen McCreight, who blogs about another issue I’m working on.

I’ll follow up soon with a post about religion and mental illness – but probably not the points you’d expect.

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2 Responses to “Mental health : It isn’t demonic possession, it is a skeptical issue.”

  1. Chuck Says:

    Thanks for this. I suffer from depression and found an end to the self abuse around it when I addressed it as a medical, rather than a spiritual issue. I have struggled with resentment towards religion and myself due to the ineffectual practice of prayer on my pain, and blog about my struggles with depression and how my Christian approach to it kept it strong.

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