Playing Devil’s Advocate With Key Religious Figures And Mental Illness Correlations.

Disclaimer: Not my own thoughts, the research is from the Journal of Neuropsychiatry – The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered. This blog entry is me playing devil’s advocate to provoke debate; I’m not in any way trying to undermine a person’s religious beliefs, simply trying to encourage discourse underlying subconscious preconceptions of mental illness within religion.  


Thoughts to be considered before reading:
-Why would it be so bad if the inspirational figures in religious history experienced mental illness?
-Why do we subconsciously reject the thought that God wouldn’t work through people who have mental illnesses?
-Does being mentally ill make you exempt from God’s work and unable to meaningfully participate in worship when one in four people have been statistically proven to suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives.

The awkward moment when it becomes plausible that Jesus suffered from Schizophrenia (Just to clarify: this wouldn’t in anyway take away from his religious position, history and achievements).

A study was conducted by psychiatrists when they were presented with a concept by a paranoid schizophrenic patient, who claimed that he could read minds and was selected by God to provide guidance for mankind. The patient refused to take the medication because they stopped the voices, presenting his doctors with the question: “How do you know the voices aren’t real…How do you know I am not The Messiah…God and angels talked to people in the Bible”. The patient raised interesting questions, how does one distinguish between people with mental health disorders and those of religious figures in history?

One of the examples the doctors used in their journal article was Jesus, by examining passages within the bible they located specific areas that presented symptoms of mental illness:
Paranoid-type (PS subtype) thought content: Matthew 10:34–39, 16: 21–23, 24:4–27; Mark 13:5–6; Luke 10:19; John 3:18; John 14:6–11

Auditory and visual hallucinations: Matthew 3:16–17, 4:3–11; Luke 10:18; John 6:46, 8:26, 8:38–40, 12:28–29

Referential thought processes: Mark 4:38–40 (Figure 3); Luke 18:31

Within the New Testament Jesus exhibits behaviours that closely resemble the DSM-IV-TR– Auditory hallucinations, Visual Hallucinations, delusions, referential thinking, paranoid-type, (PS subtype) thought content, and hyper-religiosity. Through the text Jesus also displays signs of disorganization, negative psychiatric symptoms, cognitive impairment, or debilitating mood disorder symptoms. The article poses the question about whether starvation and metabolic derangements caused some of the behaviours as Jesus experienced hallucinatory-like visions whilst he fasted for 40days in the desert (Luke 4:1–13).

Jesus’ experiences appear to have occurred over the course of at least the year before his death. There is a notable lack of physical maladies which suggest psychiatric aetiologies as more plausible. There is a 5%–10% lifetime risk of suicide in persons with schizophrenia.  Suicide is defined as a self-inflicted death that has intention to end one’s life. The New Testament recounts that Jesus was aware that people intended to kill him.  Jesus took the steps to ensure that his followers were aware that his death was necessary for his return (Matthew 16:21–28; Mark 8:31; John 16:16–28). These passages appear to present Jesus to deliberately place himself in a situation wherein he anticipated his execution. Schizophrenia is often associated with increased risk of suicide.

There is a term called ‘suicide-by-proxy’, any incident whereby a suicidal individual causes their own death to be carried out by another person.  Jesus’ behaviour before his death has parallels with someone who premeditates a form of suicide-by-proxy. In the passage Mark 3: 21: Jesus was on occasion viewed as mad or “beside himself.” People from Jesus’ hometown and the religious authorities of the day also did not accept his message. Subsets of individuals who have psychotic symptoms appear to be able to form intense social bonds and communities, despite having distorted views of reality. The study analysed the religious figures from a behavioural, neurologic, and neuropsychiatric perspective. The research indicates that the experiences of the individuals coincide with psychotic symptoms, suggesting that manifestations of their experiences had a primary or mood disorder-associated psychotic disorder basis.

The_God_Delusion_by_BlackMagic26

A main goal of this research was to evaluate the influence of individuals with mental illness and their effects on shaping the Western civilization, hoping that the findings will help to increase compassion and understanding in relation to mental illness. Within the research it should be noted that they did use explicit passages from the bible, but each passage should be examined in its own context. It is generally acknowledged that biblical scholars are not unanimous about the literality of the scriptures nor are psychiatrists completely unanimous about the DSM (basically the bible of psychiatry). The research conducted a form of psychological profiling by people that aren’t saddled with the preconceived notions and biases that encumber those that have studied their field in depth, allowing a fresh take on ideas that have been overanalysed by people in the same area of study.

Only by joining multiple areas of study can any true concept of history be interpreted, attempting to remove the elitist theories that dominate popular thought. It needs to also be acknowledged that historians aren’t the sole area of study that can interpret history, other fields of study have valuable insights that historians can lack.  The article didn’t stipulate and designate that religion was the cause for psychological symptoms, neither did it go into the scientific explanation, but it still needs to be acknowledged that religion does play a dominating role for some psychoses, especially with delusions. Does the motivating factor of religion in mental illness make it a definable feature??

I’m increasingly intrigued by the article when it encourages speculation on our inability to disprove that a person who is schizophrenic is a mouthpiece of God or is suffering from psychoses. The opposing opinions from both sides need to be taken into consideration; biases from long term studies ultimately detract from the viability of the research. The study showed the correlations that religious historical figures had with the current DSM, they acknowledged their limitations, like either psychological or biblical should do, my main question is this: why would it be wrong if they had suffered from a mental illness, it doesn’t detract from their accomplishments or their religious foundations, each person’s beliefs will always be grounded, who’s to say that God didn’t use psychoses to achieve his end.

I didn’t want to post this all week, didn’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. I came across this article, it really interested me, I understand its controversial, I am in no way promoting and detracting from either side and hope my post won’t be interpreted as such. Thank you.

Author and Article Information

From the Dept. of Neurology, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA (EDM, BHP); Dept. of Psychiatry, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA (MGC); Dept. of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA (EDM, BHP).

Murray, E., Cunningham, M. and Price, B. (2012). The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered. JNP, 24(4), pp.410-426.

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Humanity’s Icarus Complex.

Firstly a brief tale of Icarus:

Icarus needed to escape from Crete, constructing wings to fly to safety, the wings were made of feathers and wax. He was warned not to fly to low lest his wings get wet and not too high lest the sun melts the wax. The young Icarus was thrilled by the flight, but did not heed the warnings; he flew too close to the sun, at which point the wax melted and he fell into the sea.

Psychology has termed a concept the ‘Icarus complex’ which centers on a person’s insatiable ambition and the need to achieve excess in all things. To the Greeks the Icarus complex was known as hubris, the excessive pride and ambition usually leading to the downfall of the hero in a classical tragedy. The Icarus complex psychologically becomes a pattern that humanity exhibits through burning ambition and exhibitionism, often understood through the subjective lens that depicts a precipitous fall whilst craving immortality. The psychological characterisation of Icarus before his fall becomes an inevitable connection between the ascensionist and the narcissist cynosure.  Finally when Icarus has attained an excessive height he falls as his waxen wings have been melted by the sun. Stanley Kubrick taking the Apollonian stance towards Icarus’ flight: “I’ve never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, ‘don’t try to fly too high,’ or whether it might also be thought of as ‘forget the wax and feathers, and do a better job on the wings”. Contrasting to Kubrick is Oscar Wilde and his stance that one should:

“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all 
Is never to feel the burning light.”

The fall of Icarus becomes a cautionary tale to understand the value of moderation. Henry Murray first coined the term ‘Icarus complex’, later the complex has been associated to mania, whereby a person exhibits grandiosity or narcissistic inclinations and a fascination for heights. The tale of Icarus is to take the middle way, cautioning against the heedless pursuit of instant gratification. The concept of the Icarus complex reveals that when the gap between the idealised goal and reality is great, there is a greater chance that the endeavour will end in failure. Icarus represents the sin of hubris, which can be interpreted through biblical texts which state that pride goes before a fall.

Imagery of Icarus shows him smiling as he descends as his father watches in horror, the painting illustrates that life goes on, the plight of Icarus is irrelevant, the farmer will continue to plough and the ship captain will continue on his voyage without a care as Icarus drowns in the water. The image of Icarus conveys the joy in flight, the value in his triumph, no matter how short-lived. The complex associated with Icarus conveys the pendulous emotional polarities, mania is exhibited by flying too high, whereby he got “burned”, followed closely by his inevitable emotional crash that followed his flight of mania into depression – drowning in the ‘sea’ of depression.

It can be argued that mania can therefore be interpreted as a form of ambition, an excessive ambition that ends in disaster. Another interpretation of Icarus regards his pursuit of enlightenment by transcending the Earth, this suggests grandiosity. The story of Icarus also embodies every humans potential to have differing levels of manic-depressive states, our moods fluctuating. The psychoanalysis of Icarus suggests that he was in a manic state, dominated by hyperactivity and euphoria. Icarus’ state of mind remaining unchecked, progressively losing his sense of reality and oblivious to the potentially fatal risk associated with his flight. His grandiose belief and overestimation of his personal capabilities allow a never ending energy and illusion to drive him onwards.

“It is not a matter of indifference whether one calls something a ‘mania’ or a ‘god’. To serve a mania is detestable and undignified, but to serve a god is full of meaning.” C. G. Jung.

Fall_of_Icarus_-_Brueghel_-Museum_van_Buuren Joos_de_Momper_Icarus

Setting The Fox to Guard The Hen House. The Blind Leading The Blind. Psychiatry’s Grand Confession.

I don’t understand how I’m so late to this uptake.

Psychiatric drugs are now a commodity, consumers passively learning to live with and in many instances enjoy. Discovered by accident and lacking an explanation in relation to why they worked. Initially it appeared that psychiatry had found magical pills which ‘fixed’ depression. Doctors attributed the success of psychiatric drugs to chemical imbalances in their patient’s brains which were fixed as a result. Friedman told Times readers, “just because an S.S.R.I. antidepressant increases serotonin in the brain and improves mood, that does not mean that serotonin deficiency is the cause of the disease”.

I now see my psychiatrist as my state-licenced drug dealer. Specialising in ‘mood-altering’ drugs just like street dealers. “Irving Kirsch’s meta‑analysis of antidepressant trials revealed as being just as efficacious as the SSRIs was … heroin”. The chemical imbalance theory is a sham; used merely to reassure people.  No test result can demonstrate that your brain has a chemical imbalance. The pharmaceutical companies appear to have no idea how exactly their psychiatric drugs work, with no confirmable tests that there is a chemical imbalance.

I have always said that psychiatry and psychology were areas of grey, I misunderstood that our complete diagnosis was based on theories and not concrete scientific data. We are medicated based on our symptoms and the current DSM.  I feel violated by the advertisements, a victim of marketing programs, nicely hiding their lack of knowledge about why their treatments work. I’ve been actively sold repeatedly by the psychiatry industry on the concept that bipolar disorder was a chemical imbalance.

Ronald Pies’ article in Psychiatric Times “Psychiatry’s New Brain-Mind and the Legend of the Chemical Imbalance” acknowledges that the chemical imbalance theory is falsified, merely promoted by pharmaceutical companies even though the psychiatry community were aware that this theory was incorrect. Many patients are given the rationale that the illness is based off a chemical imbalance. The concept of chemical imbalance is definitely last-century thinking, low serotonin levels aren’t likely to cause depression as a study has shown that a normal person depleted on serotonin doesn’t become depressed, maybe an abnormality in the serotonin system instead.

Psychiatry has failed to debunk the chemical imbalance hypothesis which misled public opinion. We have been collectively labelled bipolar, restricted to categorisations and a diagnosed ‘box’ of people with a variety of different aetiologies, believing us to be all the same. It’s becoming an over-common diagnosis; the frequency of both legal and illicit drugs playing a vital role in facilitating mania and the diagnostic criteria for a bipolar diagnosis which has expanded with each new DSM.

I’m going to begin the road to un-diagnose myself, believing that I suffered from Iatrogenesis in relation to drug-induced hypomania. My hypomania was a reaction from anti-depressants, I am aware of the counter argument that I was still hypomanic after the medication had completely left my system, but I still believe there is a point to be argued. I’m going to conduct a new search for holistic well-being and medication free approaches.

FEB 2015 update: A holistic approach has currently failed,  send reinforcements.

Looking Back On My New Year’s Eve, Stupid Decisions & Stability.

The art of self-sabotage.

Just an indulgent repeat of my New Year’s Eve night, these thoughts are getting tedious, drinking is definitely not my friend. Trying to make these experiences ‘life lessons’. 

I had a few drinks; my head was swimming; swimming deep, trapped in the thoughts of the past. My present life is going extremely well, but it always seems that my past plays on my mind, slowly taking away from the joys of the present. I wonder if you can start to forget these thoughts, put them behind you, hoping for a fresh start. I know I’m stable, yet there are always these particular thoughts, amplified by a glass or two of wine. The alcohol brings the past back into clarity, who I use to be and what I use to do to myself. Binge drinker, depressed, self –harm, binge eating to combat depression, attachment issues, suicidal tendencies, un-empathetic, fitness junkie, food restriction and control freak. I think about all of this, I have time off from work and no university at the moment, I feel completely useless and unproductive, spending my days doing nothing. I know I’m stable, but this uselessness isn’t helping me. In the early hours of New Year’s day, as I slowly walked home through the worst parts of town, I knew I was out to hurt myself, I knew full well that it was dangerous to walk here. I stopped on the rickety bridge that was above the overpass, I didn’t move from that spot, wondering what my body would look like if it had fallen and hit the rocks below.

Drinking that night and being on medication wasn’t in my best interest, it was self-destructive. I type these thoughts so that I can put them behind me, hoping they won’t come to haunt me later. I pushed myself away from the bridge, the indulgent distraction led me into a drunken group of men that had been kicked out of a pub, I heard their catcalls, but I wasn’t bothered, I don’t think I cared. Their jeers continued for a while, I kept walking, not enticing them. In the morning the only thought I had about the night was the fact that my heels had allowed me to walk the 6km home without any bother. I didn’t regret the night, the adrenalin I got from my potentially dark walk home served to reinforce the negativity that I had been searching for. My friends said goodbye to me that night, asking where my cab was, telling them it was coming and that they should go back inside, I started my walk, thinking that I needed to clear my head, but there wasn’t anything to clear, just an angry voice inside that was egging me on just to see what would happen, there wasn’t any weighing up of risks, I just walked.

New Research On The Aetiology Of Bipolar Disorder.

John D. Pettigrew and Steven M. Miller argue that the underlying pathophysiology for Bipolar Disorder remains elusive, the disorder being strongly heritable but acknowledging that genetics are complicated. Pettigrew and Miller use the term inter-hemispheric switching which looks at trait-dependent biological markers associated with bipolar disorder. Proposing that bipolar disorder is the product of genetic propensity of slow inter-hemispheric switching mechanisms which can become ‘stuck’ in one particular state. Pettigrew and Miller state that slower switches are more ‘sticky’ in contrast to faster switches, hypothesising that the clinical manifestations of bipolar disorder can possibly be explained by hemispheric activation, which could be caught on the right (depression) or the left (mania). The research is based on rates of perceptual alteration in binocular rivalries that appears to be slower in bipolar disorder subjects who are in euthymic states in contrast to the normal controls.

portable_mood_by_alephunky-d5c536zThe research data showed that bipolar disorder patients clustered on the tail end of the distribution indicating a slower alternation rate. The Rivalry Alternation Rates: Bipolar Affective Disorder (n = 18) vs  Non-Clinical Controls (n = 49). Subsequently the euthymic state of the bipolar subjects at the time of testing suggests that slower rivalry rates can be a trait marker for bipolar disorder. Limitations of this study are related to subjects that have unipolar depression who demonstrated slower rivalry rates, although these subjects were to a lesser extent in contrast to bipolar subjects. The model of “bipolar disorder slow switches are ‘sticky’ switches because the intrinsic channel abnormalities that cause the slow oscillation rate also make the switch more likely to be held down in one state by external synaptic inputs”. A neuronal sensitivity with bipolar disorder argues that it would “lead to increased hemispheric output (in response to a stressor) and might therefore increase the likelihood that the switch will be held down (‘stuck’) on the side favouring that hemisphere”.

Pettigrew and Miller propose that the data suggests that bipolar patients have an increased ‘stickiness’ due to reduced intrinsic currents and greater extrinsic synaptic inputs from stressors, resulting in the patients being ‘stuck’ in a depressive or manic episode as a consequence of a stressor. The research proposes that the wide variety of data is indicative of hemispheric asymmetries of mood and mood disorders. Overall the results of the tests in inter-hemispheric switching might also be applicable to understanding the physiological rhythms of mood, cognitive style and other aspects of human brain function. Pettigrew and Miller outline that there have been reports that creativity is enhanced in subjects with mood disorders and also their relatives in contrast to the general population.  The controversial reports of increased creativity raise the potential for an understanding of the consequences associated with slower inter-hemispheric switching and the rhythms of cognitive style that could reveal neural mechanisms of human creativity.

Please note: this is not an academic essay merely a series of different research I found interesting.

Related/interesting sources:

Altshuler, L., Suppes, T., Black, D., Nolen, W., Leverich, G., Keck, P., Frye, M., Kupka, R., McElroy, S., Grunze, H., Kitchen, C. and Post, R. (2006). Lower Switch Rate in Depressed Patients With Bipolar II Than Bipolar I Disorder Treated Adjunctively With Second-Generation Antidepressants. AJP, 163(2), pp.313-315.

Bost-Baxter, E. (2013). ECT in Bipolar Disorder: Incidence of Switch from Depression to Hypomania or Mania. Journal of Depression & Anxiety, 01(05).

Bottlender, R., Sato, T., Kleindienst, N., Strauß, A. and Möller, H. (2004). Mixed depressive features predict maniform switch during treatment of depression in bipolar I disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 78(2), pp.149-152.

Buckley, P. (2012). The Neurobiology of the Switch Process in Bipolar Disorder: A Review. Yearbook of Psychiatry and Applied Mental Health, 2012, pp.388-392.

Calabrese, J. (2001). Drug-induced switch rates and their impact in bipolar disorder. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 11, pp.S95-S96.

Goldberg, J. (2010). Substance Abuse and Switch From Depression to Mania in Bipolar Disorder. AJP, 167(7), pp.868-869.

Kauer-Sant’Anna, M. and Yatham, L. (2007). Comment on “antidepressant treatment-emergent switch in bipolar disorder: a prospective case-control study of outcome”. Rev. Bras. Psiquiatr., 29(1), pp.86-87.

Koszewska, I. (1995). P-2-65 Pharmacotherapy in depression during switch from depression to mania in patients with bipolar affective disorder (BD). European Neuropsychopharmacology, 5(3), p.296.

Niitsu, T., Fabbri, C. and Serretti, A. (2014). P.2.d.031 Predictors for manic switch at depressive episodes in bipolar disorder: the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 24, pp.S431-S432.

Pettigrew, J. and Miller, S. (1998). A ‘sticky’ interhemispheric switch in bipolar disorder?. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 265(1411), pp.2141-2148.