Jehovahs Witnesses and mental illness

by UnshackleTheChains 9 Replies latest jw experiences

  • UnshackleTheChains

    I came across this video, which looks at mental illness among JWs.

    It is an old video, but really hits the nail right on the head as to the reasons why there is such a high level of mental illness among the JW's.

  • scratchme1010

    I've seen it. I had forgotten about it. Thanks.

  • WingCommander

    I remember this guy. I don't need his testimony to verify what I've already known: JW's are a cult and are the cause of much mental illness.

    My late JW-to-faded mother was an RN for 30+ years. 10 of those years were spent in the hospital's psychiatric ward. Guess what my mother discovered? An unusual ratio of JW's coming thru the doors with a slew of conditions: drug abuse, cutting, mental break-downs, suicide attempts, bi-polar disorder, NPD, PTSD, and on and on. JW's, and Mormons as well. Much more than the usual population. Sometimes, Elduh's would actually try and use their Clergy status to get into the (secured) ward to try an question (AKA: interrogate) the JW patients about their "sins." Family would come in (cause they could) and also attempt this, as well as lay guilt trips on the suffering individuals about how they were making Jah's Organization "look bad" or "bringing reproach" on it by being there in the first place, instead of praying more and attending the meetings, and seeking out "worldly" (AKA: Satanic) medical help!!!!!

    Truly, the JW's are highly controlling, warped, twisted Cult if there ever was one. My mother's experiences in that ward was a gigantic Red Flag that helped her to eventually wake up to the fact that she had been duped by a Cult.

  • Earnest

    In a previous discussion on the current rate of suicide and mental illness among JWs I referred to a 2015 study which considered the rate of mental illness and severe depression among a group of 15,675 Witnesses from 15 countries.

    It found that the rate of mental illness (psychosis, including schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder) among JWs is a little more than one third of the rate in the population as a whole, and the rate of severe depression is about one fifth of the rate in the population.

    The study also considered the rate of suicide in Norway over a 20-year period and found it to to be a little over a third of the rate in the population as a whole.

  • jp1692

    The Rolf Furuli "study" is highly flawed for many reasons which I will explore in a bit when I have more time.

    His pro-JW bias is blatantly evident. Also, he relied on the opinions of JW elders in determining if people suffered from mental illness or not. Yes he did. I kid you not!

    It's really a joke.

    As LisaRose previously commented about this "study":

    Being a lecturer in Semitic studies does not qualify you to do a study on mental health, it's frankly laughable. He may mean well but what are his credentials in mental health? What are his credentials in statistical analysis? Was this even peer reviewed?
    You are talking about a religion where it is not acceptable to be unhappy, much less admit to mental illness, so how accurate could any casual study actually be? And in a religion that disfellowships people for bad conduct, how meaningful is any one time study anyway? Anyone seriously mentally ill will soon get disfellowshipped, which is going to skew the results. You would have to do a long term study from birth to determine how many actually became mentally ill, which I doubt was done here. I don't even know how he got this published.
  • jp1692

    Although Furuli is definitely a scholar by most academic standards, his field of expertise is Semitic languages, not psychology. He is also well known for being a rabid JW apologist:

    Based on his studies, Furuli has attempted to defend the religious views of Jehovah's Witnesses—of which Furuli is a member—including their view that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 607 BC rather than the broadly recognised dating of its destruction in 587 BC. - Rolf Furuli

    His bias and lack of objectivity is obvious in everything he writes concerning JWs.

  • jp1692

    What Furuli calls a "study" is merely a survey and not a rigorous one by academic or scientific standards.

    His argument is essentially: "Bergman has questionable credentials and ethics; therefore, JWs do not have a problem with mental illness. I also know because I asked a bunch of my friends if there were any crazy JWs in their congregations and they said, 'No, not many!'"

    I'm not joking. He really did this.

    An example of this can be seen by considering Furuli's "methodology." He himself explains:

    As the basis for my 2015 study, I sent a questionaire to elders in 35 Norwegian congregations. In order to ascertain that the numbers from the Norwegian congregations were representative of the worldwide population of JW, I sent the same questionaire to elders in 24 congregations in USA and in 15 congregations in 12 other countries. The elders were asked to carefully consider each member of the congregation with the following questions in mind: How many active and inactive members have, or have had, a mental illness (schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder etc.), and how many active or inactive members have, or have had, a severe depression? (2015, p. 8)*

    Seriously!?! Furuli asked congregation "Elders" to diagnose mental illnesses and then to report back to him. THAT is the basis for his conclusion that JWs have a lower incidence of mental health issues than the general population. To say this is flawed research methodology is a gross understatement.

    Obviously, elders are not trained or qualified in any way to make such assessments. This is ridiculous!

    Also, his own data sometimes indicates that mental health issues are higher among JWs than among the general population. For example, he writes:

    If we use this number, the rate of admission to mental hospitals is 2.60 per 1000 among the Witnesses compared with 2.54 in the normal population; the rate of schizophrenia is 1.15 among the Witnesses and 0.61 in the normal population; the rate of paranoid schizophrenia is 0.88 among the Witnesses and 0.38 in the normal population (2015, p. 5).

    So even after Furuli’s tweaks with the numbers, he admits the rate of mental illness of JWs in Western Australia is more than that in the normal population. Nevertheless, Furuli himself admits that "final conclusions are difficult to draw" (2015, p. 5).

    Another significant detail to consider in Furuli's analysis is that he included "only those who have been treated by a psychiatrist or at a mental hospital are counted" (2015, p. 11). There are two serious problems with this:

    1. There is no reason to exclude people that suffer from mental health issues and who do NOT seek professional help. Many people do not, especially JWs since this religion actively discourages it.
    2. Again, this information was reported to him by congregation elders, so it would exclude anyone that may have been treated by a mental health professional or admitted to a "mental hospital" but the elders did not know about it. (If you think the elders know everything, you're wrong). This fact likely changes the actual numbers drastically.

    These two factors alone demonstrate the serious methodological flaws of Furuli's "study." A dispassionate reading suggests that the actual number of active and former JWs suffering from mental health issues is probably quite high. Indeed, for a religion that claims to be "the happiest people on Earth," even one person with mental health issues is a problem for their delusional, unrealistic and unhealthy ideology.

    Furuli's discussion of the issue of suicide is similarly flawed. Demonstrating his religious bias, Furuli writes: "To commit suicide is an extreme act that violates the basic principles of God, and persons who do that either are mentally ill or they are in a situation of the deepest despair where they see no solution for their problems" (2015, p. 13).

    Clearly, people that are suicidal have mental health issues. But it is equally obvious that if you are a member of a religion that spouts messages like the above, you are not likely to be open about your mental health issues with congregation elders. Unfortunately, such ideological shaming usually has the opposite effect, causing people to hide their concerns, preventing many from getting the help they need. This is a serious, endemic problem for people in this religion.

    There are so many other logical and factual errors in his paper it's laughable. The last third turned into a JW propaganda puff-piece totally unbecoming for an academic paper.

    I could write more detailing reasons whey Furuli's "research" should not be given much attention, but the above makes the point. Again, it's really lame.

    * Note: My citations are from an early draft of Furuli's research submitted for the 2015 CENSUR conference in Belgium. It is my understanding that this draft was rejected for publication because of serious methodological problems such as those I addressed above. The link Earnest provided is only to the abstract of an ostensibly revised version. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of that nor is it readily available.

  • sparrowdown

    I don't know if it would be possible to conduct accurate research on such a closed group. Particularly when the people in that group live in religious lala land are intellectually and emotionally dishonest, lie to themselves and others, and who couldn't give a straight answer to save their lives.

  • LongHairGal


    I also heard that JWs are over represented in psychiatric wards. How can anybody ignore this?

    I know of a JW who was admitted for a time and the doctor told this person’s non-JW family to keep the person away from the religion because he felt the religion was a causative factor in the person’s breakdown.

    This reason alone makes JWs a damaging religion IMO.

  • Earnest

    jp1692 : As Furuli is a JW there is no doubt there is a JW-bias. But it's also fair to argue, as he does, that it would be extremely difficult for someone who is not a JW to obtain the data from so many congregations in several countries.

    Furuli did not ask the elders to diagnose mental illnesses and report back to him but objectively only counted those "who have been treated by a psychiatrist or at a mental hospital". If those who do not seek professional help were included that would make the count subjective and open to your accusation that the elders diagnose whether there is mental health or not. It is true that some may be missed because of the criteria used but if you use the same criteria within the general population then the results are comparable.

    Your claim that his own data sometimes indicates that mental health issues are higher among JWs is misleading. In the example you cite he was discussing a 1975 article on the mental health of Jehovah's Witnesses in Australia and suggested that the total number of Witnesses should have been greater. On that basis he extrapolated the figures provided by the author (John Spencer) to show a different result. It was not his data, but an extrapolation of Spencer's data which was a study of 50 Witnesses admitted to the Mental Health Service facilities of Western Australia.

    You are honest enough to say that your criticism is based on an early draft of Furuli's research and you have not read the final version. That makes your extreme exaggeration of the contents, below, a bit pointless.

    His argument is essentially: "Bergman has questionable credentials and ethics; therefore, JWs do not have a problem with mental illness. I also know because I asked a bunch of my friends if there were any crazy JWs in their congregations and they said, 'No, not many!'"

    There is a youtube video of his presentation if you are interested.

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