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Religion a Symptom?

I presented my recovery story to law enforcement earlier this week as part of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program. During the presentation one of the participants asked me if religion was a symptom of schizophrenia. I did not go into depth with my answer then, but I want to elaborate on how religion impacted my symptoms during the most difficult time of my life, five years ago.

When my symptoms of schizophrenia started affecting my emotions, outlook on life, and my ability to function, I did not understand what was happening to me. Consequently, I relied on my religion for understanding of myself and for the strange experiences I had.

I am able to discuss the many symptoms I endured now, because it happened in my past, and I am coping with my illness well through medication, support, and faith. Some of my symptoms I experienced included: seeing and hearing things that others did not experience, having false beliefs, extreme suspiciousness and distrust in people I usually trusted, short-term memory loss, confusion, isolation, etc.

Religion interfered with my illness through its dominance and extremity. My religion demanded routines, several hours of study, and rationalization of my bizarre symptoms. At one point, my strange beliefs took over my mind, I thought God was communicating the actual date through milk cartons, and I did not believe other people when they told me the date. On the flip side I believed the devil communicated with me through the television and radio to commit suicide, even though I never attempted suicide.

My false beliefs went to the extent that I once believed I was a prophet of God on His mission, and then eventually Jesus Christ being persecuted all over again. Though I thought these beliefs were strange, I justified them through my faith. Schizophrenia caused me to think I could communicate with others by reading their mind, and sometimes they could read my mind too, it was all very weird, but possible through my faith.

I think religion can be a symptom for many of my peers with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. The extreme examples of my experience with religion and my symptoms is my personal account, religion may affect my peers differently and sometimes not at all.

Now, I label my faith as my spirituality and not as religious practices. I still hold my faith with the understanding that the impossible is possible, however, my personal encounters were a byproduct of my undiagnosed/untreated mental illness.

* I appreciate your insight and sharing personal stories, please continue to comment to let me and our peers know what you think about this topic- thank you!

To learn more about schizophrenia visit the following websites: Embracing My Mind, Inc, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


This is an interesting take on this topic. I've often wondered about what someone's personal experience with religion in regards to schizophrenia was, and how the two interacted and had an effect on each other.
Although I myself have not suffered with schizophrenia, I have close family who continues to struggle with it, and who coincidentally are very religious. My own personal take on it is that although one may turn to religion when they have a mental illness, I don't know if I would consider this a symptom. Many people from all different walks of life turn to religion to help them cope, understand, and work through whatever it is that is going on with them. To me, religion is not a symptom. Instead, it's a coping mechanism. It's one of the few outlets someone with schizophrenia may have to help explain, cope, and deal with the abnormal thoughts they are having. Religion is a great venue for this because as a rule, religions are fairly abstract. The lessons taught are meant to be interpreted in to values and beliefs. So the person projects his or her abnormal thoughts or delusions in to this part of their life as well and by doing so, they are able to rationalize why they may be thinking a certain way.

This is just my take on it! I think it is a great question, though, and it should be explored more.
Amy Karon said…
It seems to me that religious beliefs are part of how people have always tried to explain mysterious events and experiences. It makes total sense, then, that when someone has hallucinations or delusions, she or he may give them religious significance. Thanks for this post!
Aquosus said…
Yes, I agree, religion was/is a theme that I'm struggling with as a schizophrenic. Even now, while I'm going through my treatments, it's still hard not to believe in the delusions that I had grown to except as reality. Delusions that I was chosen by God to bring the Apocalypse, having the ability to see into a parallel world and that my hallucinations where really just images from that world, were/are just some of the beliefs that I'm struggling to fully convince myself are just symptoms of my mental illness.
That is just my experiences, but I'm glad that others are bringing up the topic as well. I think, truthfully, that it is one of the major fences that schizophrenics (like myself) need to jump as a first step in accepting help. Because like any belief, it's extremely difficult to accept the fact that it isn't real. The hallucinations turn into ones faith (as it did for me). Imagine if you had to tell someone very devout in any christian, muslum, or jewish faith, that their entire religion is just a delusional mental illness.
Thank you for bringing up the subject!
Jessica Leach said…

I'm studying Communication Design and I'd like to write a Graphic Novel about the experience of Schizophrenia as part of the course.

I studied Biomedical Science before and my dissertation was about schizophrenia susceptibility genes. I felt quite uncomfortable approaching this highly emotive subject in such a rational and clinical way, and without the consideration of the subjective experience or the social factors that affect it.

I'd really like to bridge some of the gaps between the scientific explanations, the subjective and emotional experiences and the economic, social political and perhaps even anthropological dimensions of the disease.

I was wondering if it would be possible to interview you over email?

My website is and my email is

Please get in touch!

Anonymous said…
I'm a violent Schizophrenic? I blame the Gods and the Devils for the way I am! I resent being ill! I used to scream and cry at Jesus and wonder why I was like this? Why did he allow me to be this way? I tried to kill myself? I tried to kill other people to get myself in trouble? I think Jesus brought me back from the dead! I think I'm being stalked by religious people?!@#$%&* I can't take "meds" And Doctors won't treat me?! Hi Ashley, your so pretty...You cope so well...
Annie said…
Ashley, thanks for opening a discussion about how religion/faith is involved in mental illness. Professionals can see our beliefs as a symptom, due to the strong spiritual fears and confusions we exhibit, especially at the onset of illness.
Fear that God has left us and anger that he allowed us to fall into what seems like a trap - to confusions over a path to take or what to believe as truth, are common. And yes, are we possessed? Medications stabilize us enough to work towards finding answers to our questions and to move on happily in our lives.
It is more likely lack of real faith or confused faith (often mistaken for religion) that is a trigger for illness, not a symptom. As a spiritual encourager I most often need to build faith in Christians with MI, who were confused by well-meaning people in the church. I was messed up by a fellow believer, and had to learn again to trust in God alone to do what seemed impossible, who is interested in our well-being, and who promises to restore and deliver us from all our troubles as we seek him and his ways. Never give up hope.
Mobeus said…
I am thankful for not being religious. I'm not saying anything about religion I'm just glad I was a very rational skeptical thinker before I became schizophrenic. I can't imagine having voices in my head that I could rationalize as being god, or having demons inside me. I did however believe a dark spirit was haunting me so I wasn't completely free from delusional thinking. I always did have the comforting thoughts that there wasn't a god having a plan for me or devil messing with me.
Anonymous said…
I am so very thankful for your honesty.

I too have faith and have experienced the twist of unstable understandings of my faith.

In fact I too felt that it was my mission to die several times to in fact be a witness of Jesus Christ to the world around me.

The reality is that Jesus said take up your cross not his.

When I came to realize that the truth of my faith was twisted. I found that I had not the ease and peace of the faith I was learning. I did not have victory, I had a disease twisting the realities of the realm of faith into something that was a pseudo expression. A mask of reality. A false Christ.

Truth is the root of all mental illness, even that which is undiagnosed, is the differences found in the beginning of time.

Identity defines everything. The first man was indeed a righteous, worthy, and an excellent creature by what he was given - his identity from God.

The Anti or pseudo religion was introduced at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The montra is "work to be", judge for yourself who you are instead of believing the identity only God gave. It comes down to insecurity on a deep level which leads to paranoia.

The spiritual, mental and physical amplifications of the original sin of man is rooted in the unbelief that the first man chose to submit to. He denied God and his identity choosing to earn his worth rather than rest in the worth he was given.

The overall delusion of any belief that leads to illness of any kind even stress, is that one must choose whether he is a god that determines his own self worth by his achievements and works and overall assessments of him or herself, or whether he has been given a justified and excellent nature by his Creator that gives him rest to know His Father is pleased in what He has created.

The ongoing battle with all beliefs is who is right? If I believe this, and it produces this behavior then what is the result. Some think my effort makes me good. What happens when your efforts fail? Your religion is a practice of delusion. You no longer have worth. Even Christians who do not understand there faith can fall to the spiritually led illnesses of the world from the initial onset. The fall in the beginning.

We all need to realize we have worth and value far beyond any religious work that can be done, whether Budhist or Athiest.

Religion in definition is the practice of what you believe. Every belief produces behavior.

Unbelief in God produces a behavior. The wrong belief in God produces a behavior.

What has helped me is the revelation of the truth and that is despite the onset of mental health problems in the beginning of time. Our collective position as mankind is to find and accept the unconditional love of God that says you are perfect because I made you and you are justified from your unbelief, in that the reality is, I forgive you.

The truth is, I don't have to die for you. Jesus did.

~ forgiven for my delusions practicing the faith of love the cure to disease.

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