Why Christians Should Not Use the Phrase "Spiritual Schizophrenia"
As both a mental health and Christian writer, I have noticed that the term “schizophrenia’ has been used in Christian publications and websites (see references below) 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 use of this phrase also uses the s-word as 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, and for over ten years I have met many 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.
What Schizophrenia is
According to the American Psychiatric Association, schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects approximately one percent of the general population. I have seen other experts refer to it as a chemical imbalance in the brain.
The main characteristic of the 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 state 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, and have delusions and false beliefs. They may be withdrawn, lack motivation, and have disorganized thinking that impedes their ability to concentrate or express themselves clearly. These symptoms can cause tremendous anxiety, depression, anger, and paranoia.
Although people with schizophrenia do share common symptoms, these can vary in how they manifest and in severity. This individuality makes the condition difficult to treat and it may take some time for psychiatrists to determine the most effective anti-psychotic medications and other therapies and treatments. Each person is different and has unique needs. Schizophrenia has several subtypes: paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, undifferentiated, residual, and spectrum disorders.
According the 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.
What Spiritual Schizophrenia is According to Some Christian Writers
The definition of “ schizophrenia” as a spiritual condition or “spiritual schizophrenia” varies according to the author but share some common themes.
Here are some possible 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 Spiritual Schizophrenia Should Not Be Used
Schizophrenia is a physical condition, not a spiritual state of being
Talking about a spiritual condition and a mental illness is like talking about apples and oranges. Our spiritual condition is mostly a matter of 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.
Myth: Split personality
Some writers define this condition 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 seems to suggest the idea of having a split personality.
Truth: Schizophrenia is not characterized by a split personality. That condition is actually called dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality disorder.
Myth: Mental Illness is a choice
Spiritual schizophrenia is presented by some Christian writers 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 in general is not real and would go away if people would just “pull themselves up by their boot straps” and fight it. In their minds, the problem is the fault of the mentally ill person: 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.
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 1:6-80). Again, the spiritual s-word suggests the idea of split personality or being a hypocrite.
Truth: Schizophrenic people are not double-minded. They can be stable, and have a deep faith, and a pure heart like any other Christian.
The Phrase Contributes to Stigma by Focusing on the Negative
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 bad thing.
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 begins in 1947 - but the film does show Nash's struggles with visual hallucinations, paranoia, false beliefs, and delusions.
I highly recommend that Christian writers stop using the term “spiritual schizophrenia” and find other more appropriate terms to describe spiritual issues.
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, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Do You Have Spiritual Schizophrenia? Double-Mindedness, Lighthouse Network
Spiritual Schizophrenia, Nucleus