A Ministry of Misery: Mental Illness and the Jehovah's Witnesses

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    Mental Health and Jehovah's Witnesses

    Some critics reference bias or scientifically flawed studies as evidence of higher levels of mental illness amongst Jehovah's Witnesses in comparison with contemporary society and attempt to identify reasons why this could be the case.

    The Mental Health of Jehovah's Witnesses by John Spencer is widely quoted though the findings are dubious. This found that in the 3 year period from 1971 to and including 1973, 7,546 inpatients were admitted to the West Australian Mental Health Service Psychiatric Hospitals, of which 50 were active Witnesses. This represents a rate of 2.54/1000 for the general population and 4.17/1000 for Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Psychiatric and psychological evaluations don't ask about or include religion in their assessments. A legitimate psychiatric hospital doesn't maintain religious beliefs in their patient records. Some studies were conducted while Jehovah's Witnesses were being persecuted by the secular authorities in the 1940's. This can hardly be deemed scientifically accurate or non-bias.

    Rylander's Study

    In 1946, Gosta Rylander investigated a sample of conscientious objectors imprisoned in Sweden. About four percent of the eligible Swedish population was judged psychologically "unfit" for military service, and the corresponding figure for Witnesses was 21 percent, or five times greater. This is close to the same ratio later found by John Spencer, whose diagnosis of "psychotic" or "neurotic" was made on the basis of mental hospital admission screening.

    The First American Study

    In 1949, in the first study on American Witness mental health, M. J. Pescor diagnosed as psychotic over seven percent of his total sample of 177 young males imprisoned due to obeying the Watchtower's prohibition against complying with military regulations. The level of Witness psychosis in his sample was about 17 times higher than that for the population as a whole.

    It is impossible to assess the mental health amongst Jehovah's Witnesses as a worldwide organization from these or like sources.

    The basic concept is that chemical and neurotransmitter imbalances within the brain are the main causes of psychiatric conditions. For over three decades, scientists have attributed a chemical imbalance in the brain as the source of major depression for example. Most biological theories focus on the monoamine chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, which are naturally present in the brain and assist communication between nerve cells. Newer studies provide an explanation of how this “chemical imbalance” occurs. Stress is one of the root causes in the development of a mental illness.

    Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (1999) - Chapter 1

    Mental health is a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity. Mental health is indispensable to personal well-being, family and interpersonal relationships, and contribution to community or society. It is easy to overlook the value of mental health until problems surface. Yet from early childhood until death, mental health is the springboard of thinking and communication skills, learning, emotional growth, resilience, and self-esteem. These are the ingredients of each individual’s successful contribution to community and society. Americans are inundated with messages about success—in school, in a profession, in parenting, in relationships—without appreciating that successful performance rests on a foundation of mental health.

    Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (1999) - Chapter 4
    Interventions for Stressful Life Events

    Stressful life events, even for those at the peak of mental health, erode quality of life and place people at risk for symptoms and signs of mental disorders. There is an ever-expanding list of formal and informal interventions to aid individuals coping with adversity. Sources of informal interventions include family and friends, education, community services, self-help groups, social support networks, religious and spiritual endeavors, complementary healers, and physical activities. As valuable as these activities may be for promoting mental health, they have received less research attention than have interventions for mental disorders. Nevertheless, there are selected interventions to help people cope with stressors, such as bereavement programs and programs for caregivers (see Chapter 5) as well as couples therapy and physical activity.

    Watchtower 02/01/1992 p. 13 Jehovah’s Gift of Holy Spirit

    Benefit From God’s Holy Spirit

    What a powerful force this spirit is! But how can Christians today avail themselves of it? First, Jesus said we should ask for it, so why not do just that? Pray to Jehovah to give you this wonderful gift not only in times of stress but on every occasion. In addition, read the Bible so that holy spirit can speak to you. (Compare Hebrews 3:7.) Meditate on what you read and apply it so that holy spirit can be an influence in your life. (Psalm 1:1-3) Further, associate—individually, in congregations, and at assemblies—with others who rely on God’s spirit. How richly holy spirit fortifies those who bless their God “in the congregated throngs”!—Psalm 68:26.

    Is not Jehovah a generous God? He says we have only to ask for holy spirit and he will give it to us. How foolish to rely on our own wisdom and strength when such a powerful help is at our disposal!

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