A demon cannot be doped – E.A. Bucchianeri.
Incorrect beliefs about mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are pervasive across the country. The misconceptions about clinical depression and anxiety spring from a genuine desire to understand them spiritually with well-meaning family and friends getting it wrong.
With the spike in suicide rate and increased conversation around depression and sundry mental disorders, here are a few things we should know if we are going to get it right.
1. Depression isn’t what our society make it out to be: It’s not a character defect, a spiritual disorder or an emotional dysfunction. Above all, it’s not a choice. Asking someone to “try” not being depressed is tantamount to asking someone who’s been shot to try and stop bleeding. Having faith in God’s (Pastors, Imams, Herbalists etc.) ability to heal is hugely important, and personal faith can help ease depression. But to deny medical or psychiatric treatment to someone suffering from mental illness is really no different than denying them to someone with a physical illness. The difference between the two is that the former is invisible.
2. Mental illness is not caused by sin: Physical abuse, substance abuse and neglect are parts of the effective causes of depression but may not always be the cause. Mental illness should not be treated as an unconfessed, unaddressed sin. This approach leads to stigmatisation and is alienation.
Viewing depression as a sin in and of itself prevents individuals from seeking treatment because the root cause is ignored or misunderstood.
3. Depression is difficult to diagnose: Depressed people become really good at hiding their symptoms, even from doctors, because of the stigma attached to the illness. You’re regarded as mad or insane once word gets around about visiting a psychiatrist. Sadly, churches and mosques are largely unable to address mental illness as it should without recourse to casting and binding demons. Furthermore, the symptoms of depression often tend to contradict each other, which makes it really difficult for a person suffering from depression to recognize it for what it is—let alone for others to recognize it.
4. Spiritualists can’t “fix” depression: The stigma associated with depression often prevent people from opening up to get guidance and support. Most religious organisations in Nigeria do not have the appropriate framework for dealing with such clinical disorders, and very few churches have licensed psychiatrist/clinical psychologists on their staff.
Most Pastors, Imams and Herbalists are ill-equipped to deal with depression and err toward a spiritual solution rather than psychological or medical treatment.
While lot’s of us have the best intentions when dealing with issues of mental illness, there is the tendency to misinterpret these clinical conditions and respond to them in ways that exacerbate them—and as a result, demoralize those suffering. Mental disorders should be treated by trained medical professionals with love and support from family friends and religious institutions to accelerate recovery.