Is mental health illness actually a spiritual sickness?

Is mental health illness actually a spiritual sickness

“Psychiatrist” derives from the Greek words psukhe meaning “soul” and iatros meaning “healer”. So “psychiatrist” actually means – and originally meant when it was first used around 170 years ago – “soul healer”.

Yet so much of 21st Century mental health treatment focusses only on the mind. Could it be that one of the reasons rates of what are known today as mental health problems have increased so dramatically is because we ignore the spiritual aspect of being a person?

As renowned motivational speaker and one of the world’s bestselling self-help authors Dr Wayne Dyer put it: “We are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings immersed in a human experience.”

Since the Industrial Revolution started in Europe in the 18th Century, the Western world has put increasingly less emphasis on spirituality. Nations and their people look to the material world as a reason for living and the way to happiness.

But striving for material gain has led to much more pressure and stress in life. Now, for instance, it is a necessity that both partners work full-time whereas until relatively recently that was not the case.

Power of Connection

Power of Connection

In a recent talk entitled The Power of Connection, physician, trauma expert and author Dr Gabor Maté said: “There are mental illnesses that develop originally really as compensations against stress and trauma.

“Now we have the GDP, the Gross Domestic Product. This is how we measure success. It’s how much wealth.

“In a materialistic society, we measure success by the possession or the control or the production of matter, of materials. It’s materials that matter.

“But is that really the true measure of a human society? Well, it’s one measure.

“But is it a true measure of a successful society? Can a society be called successful because it produces, controls or owns more matter than some other society?

“An equally important measure, at least as important measure of a society and culture, is to what degree does it meet human needs? How well does it promote healthy human development and to what degree and ways does it undermine it?”

Maté talks about disconnection caused by our modern Western system playing a major part in both physical and mental illnesses. Connection with others can be seen as a spiritual aspect of the human condition.

Feeling disconnected from others is a major part of many mental health illnesses, including conditions such as addiction and depression. We live in a world today that despite us being more connected than ever before through technology, there is often less actual connection.

A large part of recovery is about restoring connection. That is to other people – but also for the person seeking help to reconnect with their true selves.

Spiritual matters

In the past century, science has also risen as a more powerful force of reasoning than spirituality. The fact is proof of something is easier to believe if we can see it.

But spiritual matters often cannot be directly seen. Although spiritual people will say the consequence and effect of spiritual things can be seen everywhere.

They might liken it to television signals. Nobody can see the movie traveling from its source but you can see it on your television screen.

Many people connect spirituality to religion. But there are also many who are not part of any religious group who live spiritual lives.

In fact in the Alcoholic Anonymous “Big Book” chapter entitled “We Agnostics” it is all about this and says: “Something like half of us thought we were atheists or agnostics.” This was written in the 1930s when church-going and a spiritual life was much more the norm than it is now.

So AA membership today – estimated to be more than two million people worldwide – is likely to have an even larger percentage who identify as atheists or agnostics when they start the Twelve Steps recovery program.

Step Twelve of this program says: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” Therefore, the point of the Twelve Steps is to have a “spiritual awakening” – this is what has been shown for more than 80 years now to help people formerly considered by most doctors and psychiatrists to be hopeless cases.

That is not just those addicted to alcohol, but also to drugs and people with behavioral addictions too. Such a “spiritual awakening” has been seen to work for those identifying as atheists as well as for those who identify with one of the world’s religions.

Esteemed psychologist Carl Jung played a forceful part in the formation of AA. It was one of his clients – business executive Rowland Hazard – who was told by Jung that his only chance of beating an addiction to alcohol was a “spiritual or religious experience – in short, a genuine conversion”.

This filtered back to a New York stockbroker called Bill Wilson who was battling his own alcoholism. Wilson went on to become one of AA’s co-founders.

Shakespeare on disease and divinity

We can also look further back to great literature to see that a spiritual solution was seen as the cure for what today are mostly seen as mental health problems.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is agitated, anxious, unable to eat, rest or sleep. She is irritable, restless and discontent.

Macbeth sends for a doctor to cure his wife. When the doctor arrives he swiftly recognizes the source of Lady Macbeth’s problem.

He says: This disease is beyond my practice… More needs she the divine than the physician.

So the debate about mental health illness and spiritual sickness is ongoing. Although there are many people who are today regarded as having important knowledge – such as Carl Jung, Gabor Maté and Wayne Dyer among many others – who talk about a spiritual solution at least being a part of the answer to many of today’s mental health problems.

Tikvah Lake Recovery-lakeside recovery

Therapy will always be of great help to anyone who is struggling or suffering in any way. Our expert Tikvah Lake team use proven successful treatments that can treat anyone with all types of mental health illnesses and emotional disturbances

We can include an introduction to the Twelve Steps. We make sure that everyone has one-on-one therapy every day, which we have found to be the most effective way to help someone.

From virtually everywhere in our luxurious mansion you can see our beautiful tranquil lake. We are in the ideal natural setting for recovery.

Contact us today to see how we can help you or someone you love.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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