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Why Christians Should Not Use the Phrase "Spiritual Schizophrenia"

Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other related topics.

As a mental health and Christian writer, I have noticed that the term “schizophrenia" has been used in Christian publications and websites (see references below). This term has been used to describe a spiritual condition of split personality, disorderly thinking, or double-mindedness. When I see the phrase "spiritual schizophrenia," I see red.

It upsets me when people misuse the s-word because this phrase is often used as a spiritual analogy based on misconceptions and wrong concepts about this mental disorder. The s-word is used to describe a bad thing that we should avoid, contributing to stigma.

You see, I know exactly what schizophrenia is. Someone close to me has this condition. For more than ten years, I have met many other people with this and other types of mental illness in hospital wards, mental health institutions, and outpatient clinics. I monitor news on mental disorders and have written many articles on the subject.

A Definition of Schizophrenia

According to the American Psychiatric Association, schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects approximately one percent of the general population. I have seen experts refer to it as a chemical imbalance in the brain.

The main characteristic of schizophrenia is psychosis. The terms “psychosis” and “psychotic” are often bandied about in today’s culture to mean general craziness, but the actual medical definition is more specific.

According to the National Institutes of Health, psychosis is a state in which a person experiences a break from reality. The person cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not. These patients experience visual and audio hallucinations, have delusions, and have false beliefs. They may be withdrawn, lack motivation, and have disorganized thinking that impedes their ability to concentrate and express themselves clearly. These symptoms can cause tremendous anxiety, depression, anger, and paranoia.

Although people with schizophrenia share common symptoms, these can vary in severity and in how they manifest. This individuality makes the condition difficult to treat, and it may take some time for psychiatrists to determine the most effective antipsychotic medications, and other therapies and treatments. Each person is different and has unique needs.

Schizophrenia has several subtypes:

  • paranoid
  • disorganized
  • catatonic
  • undifferentiated
  • residual
  • spectrum disorders

According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers do not know what causes schizophrenia, but studies suggest that it may be a combination of brain chemistry, genetics, and environment. Other factors that can affect this condition are stress, anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, and trauma.

Relapse can occur on occasion, especially during times of stress. Fortunately, many patients can manage their condition with the right treatment plans prescribed and monitored by psychiatrists. Their symptoms can improve over time.

How Some Christian Writers define Spiritual Schizophrenia

Christian authors vary in their definition of “schizophrenia” as a spiritual condition or “spiritual schizophrenia” but share some common themes. Here are common definitions of the spiritual s-word that are being applied to spiritual principles by some Christian writers:

  • Having a split personality
  • Being double-minded, constantly shifting faith levels and beliefs
  • Being delusional because of being deceived by Satan
  • Being disorganized

Why the Term Should Not Be Used

Schizophrenia is a physical condition, not a spiritual state of being. Talking about a spiritual state of being and mental illness is like talking about apples and oranges. Our spiritual condition is often caused by our choices. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder, not something people chose to experience.

The phrase perpetuates misconceptions and misinformation. Some writers are basing their analogies on common myths and inaccurate assumptions about this mental disorder. Here are some examples.

Myths About Schizophrenia

1. Myth: Split Personality

Some writers define spiritual schizophrenia as a separation of a person’s spiritual persona and the reality of how they live their Christian life. For example, a woman appears to be the perfect mother to her perfect kids, but in reality is hitting them and yelling at them in the privacy of her home. This idea suggests the idea of having a split personality.

Truth: Schizophrenia is not a split personality. The condition described as a split personality is called dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality disorder.

2. Myth: Mental Illness is a Choice

Some Christian writers present spiritual schizophrenia as a condition where people have a choice to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing. Unfortunately, some Christians still believe mental illness is not real and would go away if people would just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and fight it. In their minds, the problem is the mentally ill person's fault; the mentally ill person did not pray enough, is deceived by Satan, or is weak.

Truth: This condition is caused by a physical brain disorder and other unknown factors, not by people’s choices or their state of moral weakness.

3. Myth: Double-mindedness

The Bible defines double-mindedness as having an impure heart (James 4:8), wavering in their faith, and unstable in all that they do (James 1:6-8). Again, the spiritual s-word suggests the idea of a split personality or being a hypocrite.

Truth: Schizophrenic people are not double-minded. They can be stable and have deep faith and a pure heart, the same as any other Christian.

4. Myth: People chose to have schizophrenia

Some have explained spiritual schizophrenia by the actual symptoms of the disorder, such as being delusional (having false beliefs, following false prophets), being disorganized, and being a double-minded hypocrite. So the s-word is depicted as a matter of choice as a bad thing.

Truth: The symptoms are a part of the mental illness and are not voluntary. People who have schizophrenia do not choose their mental state. Suggesting that they do contributes to spreading myths and misconceptions and creates stigma against people with mental illness.

Concluding Thoughts

As a mental health advocate and writer, I encourage all writers to educate themselves about what schizophrenia truly is. I can recommend the Academy Award-winning film, A Beautiful Mind, which gives a fairly accurate portrayal of how schizophrenia affected the life of one brilliant man with this condition.

It was inspired by the true story of mathematician John Nash. There have been significant improvements in treatment since his time. The film began in 1947 but the film does show Nash's struggles with visual hallucinations, paranoia, false beliefs, and delusions.

Concluding Thoughts

I highly recommend that Christian writers stop using the term “spiritual schizophrenia” and find other more appropriate terms to describe spiritual issues.

Resources

There are numerous reputable websites with more information on mental illness such as the Mayo Clinic, the National Institutes of Health, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

References

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Carola Finch

Comments

Evie Lopez from Sunny Florida on August 01, 2017:

Interesting article. I had a close family member suffer from schizophrenia but I never attributed her physical condition to a spiritual one because I educated myself on the topic. However, I can understand how periods of delusions and hallucinations could have been misinterpreted as a spiritual state by an ignorant person. Clinical depression was also diagnosed along with schizophrenia and life was not only hard on this family member but on everyone she shared her life with.