Research studies on the mental health of Jehovah’s Witnesses

by Doug Mason 18 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Doug Mason
  • slimboyfat

    I remember reading James Beckford's response to Spencer's article showing that it was methodologically flawed. I wonder if it is available online as well.

    Beckford J.A. (1975) ‘Correspondence. Psychiatry and Sectarians’. British Journal of Psychiatry, 127: 414

  • MrFreeze

    Can you offer some cliff notes for us? You don't seem to have any opinion on the findings.

  • DaCheech

    simply put:

    can you imagine hearing week after week about the destruction of the world and 99% of the population?

    human mind can go haywire subconsciously!

  • Doug Mason
    Doug Mason

    If you want my own thoughts on the high mental illness rate with JWs, I will oblige below. But I simply wanted to make these studies available for personal research and reflection.

    One could argue that these are studies made some 30 to 60 years ago, and that today's non-JW environment is different, given the impact on the brain of drugs. That may be valid; I don't have any facts one way or the other. I am no expert on the subject of psychiatry. I simply know that the WTS is sufficiently concerned at the rate of mental illness in its ranks that it provides detailed supportive articles on the subject.

    We must not demonise people who suffer a mental affliction. To do so causes them to withdraw and their suffering becomes more intense. I feel that the kind of people who are attracted to such groups are seeking solutions to problems they already have, and when their fears are not resolved, but indeed are added to with additional concerns, their condition worsens. When they are continually told that everone else in the organisation is happy, the poor sufferer believes the problem therefore lies with them. They dare not question the organisation.

    I also hoped that some JWs might be able to identify with the stories given in these studies, and if they did, I would hope they would recognise the situation they are in and take appropriate medical action.

    Here, then is the scenario as I see it, and I believe is reflected in the accounts provided in the studies I made available:



    • A person attracted to a sect would likely be seeking for a solution to their fears and concerns – wars, catastrophes caused by nature, crime, drugs, dishonesty, climate change, even death.

    • Any number of sources are available that claim to provide THE solution (Pentecostal exuberance; Eastern mysticism, including practices such as meditation and yoga; even drugs). The housebound soul is confronted by friendly confident Jehovah’s Witnesses right at their front door. While being only one very minor sect, the JWs are well-known because of their aggressive outreach.

    • The previously disturbed householder is thus drawn in by the positive, simple, confident solutions offered by the JWs, and they experience a honeymoon period as a shiny new JW.

    • Rather than seeing their anxieties allayed, the new JW is constantly confronted with warnings about wars, earthquakes, crime, dying instead of accepting certain medical treatment, having to accept constant changes in beliefs, and above all being constantly confronted with the fear of the very imminent Great War of Armageddon.

    • At the same time, the JW is confronted with glowing happy JWs pictured here and now as well as in the coming future on earth.

    • The JW internalises that the problem is within, that something is wrong personally. Here are these happy, joyful, positive images and stories, yet at the same time there is the confrontation of the very concerns they came with. The initial concerns are not being resolved.

    • They are likely to feel ostracised by the community, former friends and relations, perhaps even their spouse and family. Having to take up the door-to-door ministry can be daunting, particularly when having to put on a positive front when confronted by a concerned householder.

    • As they are drawn in further, the new JW realises that conformity to the organisation is paramount, regardless of anything else. Personal views are not permitted; instead of the confident freedom they desired and anticipated, their anxieties are magnified. But there is no one they can turn to. To express a concern is likely to result in immediate expulsion, with the certain knowledge that one’s opportunity to share in the glorious imminent New Earth has gone.

    • The WTS’s leaders say that they are the sole representative on earth of Jehovah’s kingdom government, so to doubt or disobey them is the same as disobeying Jehovah. The new JW is both encouraged by this, but at the same time is very fearful of disobeying in any way.


    • The WT constantly portrays its followers receiving positive benefits from reading the Bible. They are joyous; their lives are enriched and enhanced through reading the Word of God, courtesy of the explanations provided by the WTS, the sole representative of Jehovah’s kingdom government. Their faith protects them.

    • Nevertheless, the WTS agrees that mental illness does exist within its ranks. Their JW community is indeed no different to the rest of society. They do not provide the solution to people’s concerns.
    These Studies suggest that the presence of mental disorder within the ranks of JWs is much higher than in the general community. This is likely explained through the combination the nature of the people attracted by the JW message and that the environment within the sect contributes further to their prior condition.

  • EmptyInside

    I also think that the high rate of depression with the Witnesses is the result of waiting for the "real life". A lot put their life on hold while waiting for all their problems to be solved in the new World. They are told to put Kingdom interest first and have the fullest share in the preaching work.

    So, they give up on hobbies or other activities that would enrich their life now. Plus, many with no advanced education have to struggle to make a living at low-paying jobs. They give up their secular dreams and talents. All the while, not feeling like they are good enough or like they measure up to the high standards set by the organization.

    Then,if they ever give into temptation and sin, they live with the guilt the rest of their lives. I know a few that even after a matter was taken care of , beat themselves up emotionally for years afterward.

    I think these are some of the reasons so many in the congregations are on all kinds of anti-depressants. I was in a conversation of two sisters and they are both on two, three different medications for depression.

  • just n from bethel
    just n from bethel

    The problem I have with some of these studies, besides the one being from 1946 and another from a biased jesus freak (Bergman), is that very little, if any, double blind studies (heck even one-sided blind studies for that matter) have been performed on on sizable sample of Witnesses in comparison with the general population.

    Here is the general population figures that show one in four:

    I've even seen some studies in my Psych courses that go as high as 1 in 2.

    Heck, all one has to do is look in the self-help section and at a bookstore - and I just find a severe lack of evidence showing any particular religous group more likely to suffer mental illness, any more so than the general population.

    Now don't get me wrong, I know plenty of JWs that suffer from some sort of mental imbalance, even if just minor depression. Some of it was onset before they became members, and others occured later. I'd say that the fact that JWs are such a tight nit group (gossipers as some may see it) they just know more details about one another and thus are just more aware of personal health situations. Or perhaps those that have such situations tend to look for help more within the group instead of getting professional help - and thus they share their problems (or their gossipping friends and Jw relatives do) more openly than those not JWs with the same issues. When ones leave the org, they're likely to reflect on the people they knew that had depression or what not, and they think 'wow a lot of people I knew had some kind of mental imbalance - must be a correlation.' Unfortunately - no studies that are truly representaive of the JW population are available. Studies by docs of their patients is not a rep sample.

    Nonetheless, while I do think inter-group awareness of one another's health problems (particularly chemical imbalances) are heightened in JW congregation (and other tight religious communities), I've yet to see any serious statistical studies that prove JW mental illness is significantly more than the general population.

    In the end I think WT dogma, as well as any detrimental religous dogma (Catholic to one's own personal Jesus), appeals to all sorts of people, even those quite mentally stable and intelligent. It seems many cult deprogramming experts feel similar.

    Anyway, those are just my observations up to this point - (and yes I read all the links - but there's nothing that really voids a null hypothesis with regard to the general population). BTW, Doug - always appreciate your research on the blood issue.

  • Mattieu

    Thanks Doug, always enjoy your posts and findings.

    Cheers, Mattieu.

  • Doug Mason
    Doug Mason

    just n,

    I appreciate your thoughts.

    The JWs are by no means unique. As you say, people's insecurities are manifested in many ways. Most of the time, people go around thinking "I wonder what they are thinking about me" - a circular thought process.

    This forum happens to be dedicated to JWs, and these articles are on JWs, so the linkage is quite apparent. I feel certain that the outputs of these studies - and I deliberately posted several simultaneously - could be applied to other organisations where insecurity is not resolved but enhanced, they would conclude with the same devastating mental impact as is seen with JWs.

    It is a real pity that more recent studies, using better rigour and updated understandings, do not appear to have been conducted, so that people with these illnesses can be better helped, and the stigma associated with mental illness may be set aside. Nevertheless, these do provide a historical context, which some will be able to identify in their own lives today.

    I hope that there is one JW who is helped by reading these studies. I hope that this one JW is empowered by these studies to take positive action that helps them to better manage the internal trauma they are experiencing. I hope that other JWs will support these ill people, while at the same time question the unrelenting mental pressures put to bear on the followers of this exclusive brethren style operation.


  • Doug Mason
    Doug Mason


    Thank you for your thoughts and observations. May I use them?

    Most appreciated.


Share this