Another common belief in the church is that mental illness has its roots in the demonic. People who hear voices are hearing evil spirits that have somehow inserted themselves in their lives. I’ve heard about a “spirit of suicide” and a “spirit of bipolar”. The Bible does speak to people being possessed by unclean spirits being mentally ill; witness the story of the Gadarene demoniac, whom Jesus healed by casing his unclean spirits into a herd of pigs.
However, the only problem with that belief is that voices, suicidal impulses, and bipolar symptoms do respond to medication. The right medicine can make the voices go away. I’ve read this experience in testimony after testimony about the efficacy of drugs in helping paranoid schizophrenics silence their voices with anti-psychotics. Evil spirits don’t respond to drugs. The brain does. That being said, I don’t deny that miraculous healing can happen. I’ve seen it over and over throughout my church experience. And since bipolar disorder is a disorder of the brain, I don’t doubt you can be healed of it miraculously.
However, that is not to say that you should not pursue every medical avenue possible to aid in your healing. That leads to another belief prevalent in Christian circles—that taking psychotropic drugs is a sign of unbelief or lack of reliance on God to bring you through a depression. Early in my recovery, I called a young lady I knew who suffered a serious clinical depression for advice on how to deal with my diagnosis. She described some harrowing experiences, including such a deeply depressed mood that her husband considered committing her to the state mental hospital.
At that point, I believe I was taking an eight-drug cocktail to try to bring me out of my depression. So I asked her about her medication. She said she did not take any. She quoted the scripture that Israel, instead of relying on God to win a military battle for them, made an alliance with Egypt instead for help. God told them that since they put more faith in the “horses and chariots of Egypt” than in him, that they were going to lose the battle. And they did. She likened taking medication to not having faith in God to heal you. She said that she simply “prayed without ceasing” and she believed that her show of faith in doing that led to her coming out of the depression.
Again I was crushed. I felt put down and degraded where I had been looking for encouragement. I could see the analogy she was making, but I felt that it was a misapplication of Scripture to liken mental illness to God’s relationship with Israel. I wondered if she would tell a Type I diabetic to stop taking insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is necessary for life. The Type I diabetic does not produce any insulin and so has to take it in shots or pumps or risk death. If bipolar disorder is a shortage of chemicals in the brain, and medication can stimulate their production, who in their right mind wouldn’t take the medication? But suspicion of psychotropic medications is deeply ingrained in some Christians’ belief systems.