Dean to dispel demonic myths
A Bermudian chaplain hopes to dispel myths that the mentally ill are possessed by demons with a lecture next month.
Althea Winifred warned that mislabelling psychological problems as a spiritual failing could lead to negative stereotypes in religious congregations.
Dr Winifred, the dean at the Substance International Institute Faith School in Georgia, believes the stigma can cause mental tensions to spiral into breakdowns or suicide.
She will give a “Minds Emotions” lecture and workshop on the subject during Mental Health Awareness Week at the Heritage Worship Centre, Dundonald Street, Hamilton, on October 10.
Dr Winifred told The Royal Gazette: “Lots of times the way that people with mental illnesses are reacting, and their behaviour, could give the look of a demonic possession.
“Somebody could be squirming on the floor or vomiting or doing lots of other things.
“We have put those behaviours down as demonic possession, but lots of times these are people who are just plain sick.”
Dr Winifred believes unaddressed mental health issues are widespread within many Christian church communities.
She will address the issue at her lecture and share how congregations can understand and support those with mental illnesses.
Minds Emotions also aims to break down negative stereotypes around mental illness, particularly the belief that their behaviours are caused by demonic possession.
Dr Winifred explained that a study conducted by LifeWay Research, a research division of the LifeWay Christian Resources organisation, had revealed that 84 per cent of churchgoers were dealing with mental health issues, including depression and suicidal thoughts.
She added that the same study found that 4 per cent of church leaders failed to address mental health issues in members of their congregation, despite having prior knowledge, before they committed suicide.
She said: “From my experience and research, churchgoers typically refrain from speaking with leadership about their mental struggle.
“This is usually because the churchgoer doesn’t have a firm grasp on what is happening themselves and can’t communicate it in a way that doesn’t make them sound ‘crazy’.
“Others simply don’t trust that they will receive the level of care required or that their leadership couldn’t offer the proper guidance.”
Dr Winifred also said that this lack of discussion, combined with a lack of mental health training and resources, led to negative stereotypes about mental illness persisting.
One of these stereotypes, she explained, included the belief that those who were ill suffered from demonic possession.
Dr Winifred said: “If you go to church and somebody did not take their medication and is erratic, all of a sudden we’d say, ‘Oh, my God, that person’s demonic.’ No, they just haven’t taken their medication.
“This issue happens quite a bit because we don’t understand that people are going through some issues.”
Dr Winifred said the stigma made those with mental illnesses less likely to open up about their personal struggles.
She added that this could lead to mental health problems worsening and result in increased breakdowns, more erratic behaviour and suicide.
Dr Winifred said that education and an open dialogue about mental health would not only break down negative stereotypes, but show the church community how to help sick members.
She explained: “I firmly believe in educating, empowering and equipping people within all local churches and all religions about mental health in the church.
“As Christians, we must be a part of the solution and not a problem for people struggling with mental health disorders.”
• Mind Emotions will run from 6pm to 9pm on October 10 at the Heritage Worship Centre in Hamilton. For more details, call 400-5364
This article has been amended to remove reference to the Bermuda Health Foundation as organiser of the event. The foundation has not organised the event and we apologise for the error.
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