Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Difference Between Mental Illness and Possession? One Exists.

The Mirror takes us back to the dark ages again today (23/05/16), courtesy of Italian exorcist  Father Cipriano de Meo. Clearly the journos at the Mirror are tired of being called backwards, irresponsible, fear-mongering shit lords for promoting archaic notions of demonic possession and have decided to call in an "expert" to fight their corner...

Father Cipriano de Meo (left), is Dean of Exorcists and former president of the International Association of Exorcists, a Roman Catholic organization founded in 1990. In the article, he tells us prayer is the key to establishing what ails a presented person.
"The exorcist will typically say a prolonged prayer to the point where if the adversary [demon] is present, there's a reaction... he unsettling reactions of a possessed person to the prayer, seen by the adversary as an enemy ready to fight him, can include "facial expressions, threatening words or gestures and other things - but especially blasphemies against God and 
Our Lady.”

That's all fine and well, but what de Meo fails to realise is that individuals in families and communities with strong religious beliefs, including belief in Satan, possessions, and demons will very probably believe in those things also. There's no reason to believe that these individuals won't also assume their illness is spiritual in nature. This misattribution is compounded by those around them.

Is it any wonder that these individuals respond to religious provocation? They respond in a negative way because that is the role that is enforced upon them. Psychologists suggest the most likely medical explanation for so-called possession is dissociative identity disorder (DID), one approach to the disorder is to consider it as a syndrome consisting of role enactment created, maintained and legitimised by social reinforcement. This delusion is only compounded by family members and priests confirming it and enforcing it. Cultural interpretations and representations of possession also factor into the disorder. As Robert Todd Carroll, of the Skeptic's Dictionary points out in regards to a MSBC programme featuring several "exorcisms":
"All the participants shown being exorcized seem to have seen the movie "The Exorcist" or one of the sequels. They all fell into the role of husky-voiced Satan speaking from the depths, who was featured in the film. The similarities in speech and behavior among the "possessed" has led some psychologists such as Nicholas Spanos to conclude that both "exorcist" and "possessed" are engaged in learned role-playing."-Carroll (2015)
Schizophrenia is also commonly associated with so-called symptoms of possession, with studies also suggesting that religious delusions are held with more conviction than other forms of delusion:

"Studies which have evaluated the delusional themes of various religious/spiritual delusions report that the common themes are that of persecution (by malevolent spiritual entities), influence (being controlled by spiritual entities), and self-significance (delusions of sin/guilt or grandiose delusions). Studies also suggest that when the non-content dimensions (conviction, pervasiveness, preoccupation, action, inaction, and negative affect) of different types of delusions (persecutory, body/mind control, grandiose, thought broadcasting, religious, guilt, somatic, influence on others, jealousy, and other) are compared, findings suggest that religious delusions are held with more conviction and pervasiveness than other delusions."(Mohr S, et al, Pubmed, 2001)
Is this perhaps because other delusions aren't enforced by family members figures of religious authority such as priests, and the mass media.

On many occasions, it's clear that Priests and members of a local congregation are not acting in the best interests of sufferers of mental illness. Researchers document several cases where the actions of religious leaders have interrupted the ongoing treatment of a prediagnosed sufferer of mental illness. Take the case of a 28-year-old sufferer of schizophrenia from BMJ.
"Historically, many cases of demonic possession have masked major psychiatric disorder. Our aim is to increase awareness that symptoms of schizophrenia are still being classified as demonic possession by priests today... We report the case of a 28-year-old patient who had been diagnosed 5 years previously with paranoid schizophrenia (treated with clozapine, risperidone, ziprasidone and onlanzapine without a complete response) and was also receiving treatment in a first episode psychosis unit in Spain. The patient was led to believe by priests that her psychotic symptoms were due to the presence of a demon. This was surprising because some of the priests were from the Madrid archdiocese and knew the clinical situation of the patient; however, they believed that she was suffering from demonic possession, and she underwent multiple exorcisms, disrupting response to clinical treatment."
The authors continue:
"The patient had schizophrenia and at the time was receiving treatment at a first episode psychosis unit after a psychotic episode a year before... Some months later the patient contacted a clergyman via a website. The clergyman was a renowned expert on exorcisms and a frequent guest on TV programs on paranormal phenomena."
In this particular case, the patients' family were suspicious of the activity of the clergyman in question and ensured that she sought proper medical intervention.

"Family members began to express distrust about the exorcisms because the patient shouted, writhed and occasionally vomited during the sessions. As a result they contacted therapists in the unit for an opinion on meetings with the priest. We were very concerned about the patient's situation and also disappointed with the clerics’ reaction."

The authors conclude:

"...we are surprised that in 21st century and in Europe, there are still experts and clerics who believe that some types of schizophrenia are due to demonic possession. Our intention was to ask an expert cleric from the Madrid archdiocese to try to convince the patient that her symptoms were due to a mental disorder, in an effort to improve her insight. To our surprise, clerics assumed that the patient's psychotic symptoms were due to a malign presence." (Practicing Exorcism in Schzophrenia, Pozo, et all, 2011)
It's worryingly clear here that this wasn't just a case of one Preist or clergyman acting irresponsibly. A whole archdiocese purposely disregarded the opinion of medical professionals and encouraged a young woman to undergo a harmful and potentially deadly, religious ritual. In fact, the clinical report into the case details that the patient was repeatedly vomiting during the exorcisms, one of the reasons the family was so concerned. Likely, this course of action and religious intervention was decided on as a result of this young woman's reaction to religious provocation and that alone. To use such a mundane and explainable justification for overlooking the treatment and advice of medical science is utterly monstrous.

The Mirror article also quotes another unnamed representative of the Catholic Church:
 "Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.”
All fine and well, but cases such as the one documented above show that the Church doesn't actually have much respect for medical science, and as the organisation is yet to show how one can legitimately differentiate between mental illness and possession. The reasons for delineation can clearly be shown to be a factor of the mental illness itself. How about before ascertaining the presence of "the evil one" maybe ascertain there's an "evil one" at all!

Well apart from this guy. Have you seen Jack And Jill.... Brrrrr.... soulless....

Sandler aside, I'll conclude with one line from the paper I've cited above:

"We conclude that religious professionals should encourage appropriate psychiatric treatment and increase their knowledge of mental illnesses."
None of us should hold our breath, in fact, religious leaders seem to be becoming more steadfast in the existence of nonsense such as this.Coupled with the prevalence of such things being presented as "fact" in the news media and entertainment in general results in a devastating double punch of superstition and ignorance to the gut of the vulnerable and mentally ill.