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. Some experts refer to it as a chemical imbalance in the brain.
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.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
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 that occurs when 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 They may be withdrawn, lack motivation, and have disorganized thinking that impedes their ability to concentrate and express themselves clearly.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:
- spectrum disorders
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:
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- 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 conditions are often caused by our choices. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder, not something people choose to experience.
The phrase perpetuates misconceptions and misinformation. Some writers base 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 being 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, like 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.
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 1947, when the film begins. The film does show Nash's struggles with visual hallucinations, paranoia, false beliefs, and delusions.
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.
I highly recommend that Christian writers stop using the term “spiritual schizophrenia,” educate themselves about mental illness, and find other more appropriate terms to describe spiritual issues.
What Is Schizophrenia? American Psychiatric Association
Questions & Answers about Psychosis, National Institutes of Health
Schizophrenia, Mayo Clinic
Spiritual Schizophrenia, Paul Tripp, The Christian Post
One Sure Way to Avoid Spiritual Schizophrenia, F. Dean Hacket, Charisma Magazine
Do You Have Spiritual Schizophrenia? Double-Mindedness, Lighthouse Network
Do You Have Spiritual Schizophrenia?, Work Life
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