Is it mental illness or demon possession? How can I know the difference? And how can the church help and not hurt? While I am no expert on this topic, I hope that the following is helpful.
Disclaimer: Some don’t believe that mental illness is real. Others don’t believe that demon possession is real. This post is for those who believe that demon possession is possible. And that mental illness is possible. If both exist as possibilities – then which one is it? Please keep in mind that even for Christians, demon possession is a puzzling topic. And many Christians would be quick to point out that we live in a broken world. We aren’t in Eden anymore. We have bodies AND minds that fail us at times.
Typically, when a person is attempting to discern between a demon possession or a mental illness, it is because something unusual is going on. Often, the person is hearing voices, seeing things others aren’t seeing, and/or having trouble discerning what is real from what is not. Psychosis (a break from reality) affects 3% of the population at some time in their life, while schizophrenia affects 1% of the population. That means that 1 in 100 people will develop schizophrenia in their lifetime. The age of onset is usually between 14-35 years of age. Similar to how diabetes can be treated with medication, psychosis can also be treated with medication. If the breaks from reality improve on medication (and if the person has been patient in finding the right medication and dosage) that gives a strong indication that the unusual experiences were due to biochemistry. Demon possession wouldn’t go away via medication.
Church leaders may be contacted either by concerned family members or by the individual to help determine what is going on. The best way that the church can help is to strongly encourage a second opinion (family doctor, mental health worker, psychiatrist) AND stay involved with the family and individual. Problems arise when one of these steps are missed. Do seek outside help but don’t stop meeting with the family/individual. The individual needs both the health care system and their church at a time of crisis.
The church can play a beautiful role in helping individuals who are questioning “is it demon possession or mental illness?”. To do so, the church must be willing to refer out and stay involved.
For more on this subject, watch this video from “The Meeting House” on November 15th, 2015. It was a Mental Health Q & A during their worship service, which happened to come at the end of their series on Satan and demons.