As I sat at my desk, charting, a fellow nurse stated, “I think mental illness is the lack of the Holy Spirit.” Setting there, my mouth agape, I was trying to process her statement: “mental illness is the lack of the Holy Spirit.” As a former psyche nurse and as someone whom suffers from Major Depressive Disorder and PTSD, my blood pressure began rise, pupils dilate, and heart rate increase; I felt the warm fuzzy blanket of rage spread over me. “Why would you think that mental illness is any different than any other medical diagnosis?” I quipped, now seething with anger. “Well, it’s just my opinion; I think the mentally ill need to find God.”
At this point, I had to excuse myself from my desk, as my proverbial fangs were showing, venom dripping. As a nurse, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing: “mental illness is the lack of the Holy Spirit.” It echoed throughout my head, over and over again. I was, like most who have experienced mental illness, tired and full of rage pertaining to the negative and creative mythos our culture has comfortably enveloped itself in, pretending that people like me don’t exist, espousing ignorantly that we are the 21st century equivalent of Godless lepers.
Not only was it insulting, it was terrifying. Not because I’m afraid of ignorant nurses, but because she was a nurse. She was, by the State of Missouri, a licensed Registered Nurse who didn’t believe in mental illness. Instead of using science, she applied her supernatural paradigm as a means of diagnosing her supposed misdiagnosed patients, denying them the human dignity and the legitimacy of their disease.
As a nurse, I find her repugnant and an embarrassment to the nursing profession. If we’re going to garner the respect of our peers and colleagues, we need to move forward professionally, espousing science rather than the supernatural. Albeit, religion is an important part of the human experience, one’s religiosity should not taint the lenses of the clinician. It should, if anything, empower the clinician to provide better care and respect all aspects of the human condition, including mental illness.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness:
- One in four adults – approximately 57.7 million Americans – experiences a mental health disorder in a given year.
- About 2.4 million Americans, or 1.1 percent of the adult population, live with schizophrenia.
- An estimated 5.2 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders. Of adults using homeless services, 31% reported having combination of these conditions.
- Suicide is the eleventh-leading cause of death in the United States and the third-leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 years. More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder.
- Over 50 percent of students with a mental disorder age 14 and older drop out of high school –the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
Obviously, many Americans, like me, lack the Holy Spirit.