Dr. James George Faculty Member, Counselor and Youth Speaker

The term ‘mental health’ can simply be defined as the level of emotional health and the absence of mental illness. The emotional functioning and relational level of a mentally healthy person is hale and hearty. A mentally healthy person will effectively adapt to the challenging life situations and recurrent stresses of life. Their relational and emotional levels are satisfactory. It has been identified that their behavior patterns and approaches to life realities are productive and meaningful. They keep a positive outlook on life and maintain flexibility and readiness for change. Moreover, they successfully cope with different demands of life. They have a realistic outlook about themselves and endure stress and strain without personality disintegration.

It has been observed that normality and abnormality are often decided on the basis of “majority behavior, ideal behavior and absence of pathological behavior that causes distress to oneself, or people around him/her.” Research shows that there are many factors that influence the health status of the mind. These include (i) Hereditary factors; (ii) Organic factors; (iii) Psychogenetic factors; (iv) Age Related factors; (v) Interpersonal factors; (vi) Cultural factors; and (vii) Crises in a person’s life. As mental health is the combination of different factors, the predominant impact of these factors on the health status of the mind isinevitable and undeniable.

A mentally healthy person does not demonstrate any pathological symptoms. The criteria for mental health as explained by Marie Jahoda are pertinent to be mentioned here. They are:
1. Attitude towards self
2. Personal growth and self-actualization
3. Internal psychological oneness or integrity
4. Independence from social influence – the individual is inner directed than directed from outside sources
5. Perception of reality without distortion
6. Environmental mastery

Mental illness is often measured according to disorders rather than diseases. However, it is unwise to predict all psychological disturbances as mental illness. The behavioral problems, developmental issues and other crises can jeopardize the growth journey of an individual. However, it can be effectively treated through different counseling approaches. The treatment history of mental disorders can be traced back to more than four thousand years. The Egyptians, Jews and Greeks considered mental disorders as the presence of demons and work of the evils. In the New Testament times, exorcism was widely used to release people from clutches of evil spirits. It has been identified that for many centuries people adopted different treatment models to deal with this issue. These approaches include physical punishment, torturing, beating and so on.

Mental illness is a reality and this dysfunction is rooted in the structure of the personality. John Bartunek observes that, “mental illness in these cases is not always caused by direct demonic activity. Many (probably most) times, it is caused by traumatic physical or psychological experiences, or genetic/physiological imbalances, or a combination of any of these factors.” Psychiatric care and effective counseling are the right tools in dealing with such situations. The advancement of medical science, and its growing awareness and availability widens the horizon of our understanding about the scope and treatment procedure. However, a complete remedy is improbable at all situations, as the person, family and those who are associated with him/her carry this life-long cross more often than not. It is likely that this situation may bring an adverse impact on the immediate family members at different levels, and it can deplete the financial resources and affect the social functioning as well.

As we have observed that mental illness is real, we must also understand that demonic activity is real as well. The Bible clearly states the existence of demons. John Bartunek sees‘obsession’ and ‘possession’ as two ways through which the devil damages the normal functioning of a human being. By the term, ‘obsession’, he indicates that, the attack of devil from outside, causing severe damages on the physical and psychological levels. The term ‘possession’ indicates that the attack is from within where the devil takes temporary control of a person’s physical and bodily capacities.

The underlying link between mental illness and demon possession is complex to explain in some cases. Such situations area challenge for deciding the nature of treatment procedure. Therefore, basic psychiatric knowledge and spiritual discernment are essential aspects in dealing with these concerns. Primarily, the underlying root of demon possession lies in the spiritual sphere, whereas the root of mental illness can include multiple factors which may be biological, psychological, social, or spiritual.

Now the question of why God allows the devil to tempt people often seems to be mysterious. However, demonic attack disrupts human nature and shatters them at different levels. In the Bible, different varieties of manifestations of the devil are portrayed and the undercurrent nature of the attack of devil gets hold of people from a purpose-driven life. Though it remains as a mystery why God allows temptation, the temptations of demons and the existence of demon possession is a reality.

The healing potency of religion/supreme-being in providing mental health is an undeniable factor. A Christian counselor considers the religious and ethical dimensions of the patient’s core concernsthan secular counseling approaches in dealing with such issues. They are aware of the healing potency of religious tools such as prayer, scripture, and sacraments in the therapeutic process. At the same time it is dangerous for pastors to address mental health disorders only with their preliminary understanding on different theoretical concepts. Adequate training and skills of a pastor are highly significant to tackle mental health disorders. Paul Tillich made a right observation in dealing with such concerns. Adequate attention must be paid to the three levels– the medical, psychotherapeutic and religious as they are distinguished but not separated. Though they are different in function, they overlap and leave a thin boundary. In dealing with such concerns, the minister is not intended to exercise the function of physician or a psychotherapist. In the context of demon possession, the exercise of spiritual gift seems to be effective, whereas for mental disorders, psychiatric care is more appreciable.

Many cultures and religions hold different views on demonic possession. Christianity upholds the fact of demon-possession. The devil was once an angel of the heavenly court (Zech 3:1-10). According to the Christian understanding, demons are fallen angels. In the book of Job, Satan is pictured as the accuser of humans (Job 1-2), and an inciter of sins (1Chronicles 21:1). The New Testament understanding further sheds light to believe in the existence of demons, the other spiritual entities and these demonic powers can seriously attack human beings. The New Testament provides several episodes where Jesus drove out demons (Mt 4:24, 8:16; Mk 1:32, 4:41). Some examples are: The demon possessed man in Gergesenes/Gadarenes/Gerasenes (Mt 8:28-34; Mk 5:2-20; Lk 8: 26-39); a mute man with demonic possession (Mt 9:32-34; Lk 11:14-26); a demon possessed blind and mute man (Mt 12:22-28); the Canaanite/Syro-Phoenecian woman’s daughter (Mt 15:22-28; Mk 7:25-30); an epileptic boy (Mt 17:15 -21; Mk 9:14-2 9; Lk 9:3 8-43); The man in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mk 1:21-28; Lk 4:33-36). These vivid accounts depict that the characteristic signs or symptoms of demon possessions are unique and varied.

The New Testament narratives prove that Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. There is further evidence that the disciples of Jesus cast out demons and brought healing at different occasions. Jesus commissioned His disciples to cast out demons. “Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons” (Mk 4: 14, 15). The New Testament provides ample evidences that exorcism was practiced by the church. In the contemporary scenario, the classical Pentecostals and the Charismatic gatherings practice the casting out of demons. Pentecostals believe in the existence of demons as actual spiritual entities, and its adverse impact on people. It has been observed that in Kerala this ministry is most often conducted by certain gifted people. There are number of evidences about the supernatural healing of many from the demonic possession.