Is a Person Really Haunted or Are They Mentally Ill?
As I watched some odd show on TV about a young man being tormented by a demon that researchers thought was connected to his haunted house, I realized that the line between haunting, possession, and true mental illness is blurry to many. The young man on the show demonstrated classic symptoms of schizophrenia. He was at the right age for his first psychotic break. He was having command hallucinations. His thought patterns were disorganized and he was no longer rational. To me, this wasn't a haunting, it was a young man who needed help. For sceptics, this is the obvious answer to all hauntings and demon possessions. It is easy to say mental illness is the answer. However, I think there are ways to see a difference between the supernatural and the natural affects of mental illness. Obviously, many psychiatrists and therapists don't feel this way, but I think when diagnostic criteria for a mental illness aren't met and treatment doesn't work, other things could be considered.
First, lets talk about mental illness. In order to be diagnosed with any mental illness a cluster of symptoms has to be present. So someone who is describing the ghosts of the dead tormenting them in the absence of other symptoms could really be seeing them (in my opinion). Here are some examples of the diagnostic criteria for some mental illnesses in which delusions of ghosts and demons and paranormal events are common:
1.Characteristic symptoms: Two or more of the following, each present for much of the time during a one-month period (or less, if symptoms remitted with treatment).
Disorganized speech, which is a manifestation of formal thought disorder
Grossly disorganized behavior (e.g. dressing inappropriately, crying frequently) or catatonic behavior
Negative symptoms: Blunted affect (lack or decline in emotional response), alogia (lack or decline in speech), or avolition (lack or decline in motivation)
2.Social or occupational dysfunction: For a significant portion of the time since the onset of the disturbance, one or more major areas of functioning such as work, interpersonal relations, or self-care, are markedly below the level achieved prior to the onset.
3.Significant duration: Continuous signs of the disturbance persist for at least six months. This six-month period must include at least one month of symptoms (or less, if symptoms remitted with treatment).
Schizotypal Personality Disorder:
A. A pervasive pattern of social and interpersonal deficits marked by cognitive or perceptual distortions indicated by 5 or more of the following:
1. ideas of reference
2. odd beliefs and magical thinking that are inconsistent with cultural norms such as belief in clairvoyant, telepathy, or a sixth sense.
3. unusual perceptual experiences, including bodily illusions
4. odd thinking and speech
5. paranoid ideation
6. inappropriate or constricted affect
7. behavior or appearance that is odd, eccentric, or peculiar
8. lack of close friends other than first degree relatives
9. excessive social anxiety that is associated with paranoid fears rather than negative judgements about oneself.
Psychotic features can also be present in mood and other disorders that could lead to delusions of persecution from otherworldly forces. However, when looking at a functional person who believes in ghosts or the supernatural and sees things haunting him the easiest way to determine if he might be really mentally ill or just haunted is to ask if meets other criteria: Is the person normal otherwise? Do they have successful, happy interpersonal relationships? Do they make sense when they talk to you? Can they hold down a job?
An example I have is of a fellow I worked with some years ago in one of the three cities I've worked in. I worked with this fellow for a long time and he was completely resistant to treatment. He was a father of three who had a stable job and a happy marriage. He had no symptoms of bizarre behavior and had many friends. Out of the blue, a ghost began to torment him. He went to seek medical help. He had been in and out of hospitals and never had any medication worked. As a professional, I couldn't say this, but I had to wonder if his ghost may not have been real? He was a normal fellow in every other respect and no treatment worked. He was not superstitious and didn't believe in ghosts himself so he was confounded and angry as to why the mental health community just couldn't help him.
I've interviewed many people who have described persecutions by demons and ghosts and haunting. I've written their stories and I've believed these people, but skeptics and other professional always ask me how I know these people aren't just crazy. I always answer with the above. They were otherwise normal, healthy, balanced people. They had no history of mental illness and when they left their house or escaped the haunting situation they were able to return to a normal life. It is simple. Many sane and normal people describe paranormal experiences and once mental illness and natural phenomena are ruled out, the alternative has to be considered, and maybe that is the most terrifying possibility of all.