Monday, April 27, 2009

DSM IV Axis II - The Church's Dirty Little Secret Part I

DSM IV stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 4th edition. It is simply a catalog of mental disorders, as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association. The manual divides mental disorders up along five axes (or levels). The axis I contains the mental diagnoses that most lay people are familiar with, including things such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, phobias and even schizophrenia. The dirty little secrets are the more troublesome (in many ways) and little recognized disorders in the axis II.

It will be far beyond the postings in this little blog to explain these disorders. I also am not an expert . . . although, in my line of work I must be somewhat familiar with them.

I say that they are the Church's dirty little secrets because not only they seldom recognized . . . but often appraised as positive spiritual characteristics (when you know these people on the surface) or just bad people (once you get to know them . . . and they you).

Often the people who suffer from these disorders create a living hell on earth for some of the people they are closest to and who have tried to love them (and oddly whom they have tried to love in their strange way).

The first thing that brought this issue to the foreground for me happened last week. I was watching the Today Show and they were interviewing a forensic psychiatrist regarding the case of Melissa Huckaby, who has been accused of sexually molesting and killing 8 year old Sandra Cantu. The psychiatrist was talking about anti-social behavior and someone asked, maybe it was Matt, something along the lines of, “This lady was a Sunday school teacher in her Grandfather’s church. You would think that someone would pick up on her problems.” I’m not assuming that she’s guilty, and this isn’t even about Melissa, but about the psychiatrist’s answer.

She said, “Church people are notorious for being naive about human behavior, especially when it comes to the mentally ill.”

I’ve been thinking about that statement every since. In later posts, I hope to explore some of the Axis II disorders and how they might play out in an Evangelical setting.

But before I end this posting, I wanted to share some thoughts regarding the why we are so naive.

In the traditional, Evangelical (American) Dualistic (okay enough adjectives) Church, we see a big separation between the fluid, or flexible soul and the material, more fixed, brain. So behavior is simply the express of choices. We assume that all people start at the same place (mentally) and can choose to do good, if they love the Lord, or to sin, if they don’t.

We believe that people can act on one extreme end or the other . . . where we can act out of a supernatural indwelling of the Holy Spirit . . . or out of demon possession.

I recently gave an example of this later statement when a man at our church went nuts. When he started shouting “Praise God!” many people started cheering “Amen!” They thought revival had come. Then, when he immediately switched to shouting, “F. . . God!” there was look of horror on the same church people’s faces . . . who then assumed he was demon possessed. However, I think the man is mentally ill and that concept was outside of anyone’s, save a couple of us, way of thinking.

If you understand that the material world is of substance (no pun intended), meaning importance, then the fall of Adam influences the material in a deeper way than most Evangelicals can imagine. Someone with bipolar, or clinical depression and certainly anti-social behavior or personality disorders don’t “snap out of it” the moment they become a Christian. Could God give them a whole new persona? Sure he could. But he doesn’t. This is not a theological statement but a simple observation of reality. Messed up people remain messed up after they become Christians . . . just that the messiness goes underground. I’m not saying, that with a few years of better thinking patterns, maybe some good treatment, and prayer, that they could be some . . . okay, maybe a lot better, but never 100%. The Fall of Adam is really that bad.

But if the Evangelical, due to their Dualistic perspective, thinks that education is crap . . . unless you study the Bible (I just heard our chief elder say a few months ago that we shouldn’t allow any of our young people to go to college), then the whole field of psychology, sociology and especially psychiatry is crap.

If you also assume that the spirit is very fluid, where I could be a socio-path, axe murderer . . . then meet Jesus, and the next day be a smiling Sunday school teacher, then we do become naive.

I don think that in many Christian circles the more common diagnoses, depression, bi-polar, are being more accepted as a legitimate disease . . . however, the complex, and deceiving Axis II problems are not.

I will explore some of the Axis II problems next time. But before I do, and in closing, I will make a humble comment. Psychiatrists have told me more than once those patients with these Axis II disorders are often the last to know. With that said, maybe I’m one too. (smiley face here) I know that I’m messed up in more ways than I know. I know too that by the mercy of God, he still loves me.


Anonymous said...


Yes, this is NOT what we like to talk about.

I found it very interesting (telling?) that my husband was an INCREDIBLE pastor while his bipolar 1 was growing in severity. His other "quirks" mostly all fit into axis II. These things all served him WELL in the church world...which is...troubling, at best?

I'm sure you've read Toxic Faith. I was very disturbed by that described so many things about my husband...things that are NOT healthy, and yet are greatly praised in the evangelical world. It's kind of scary.


MJ said...

We had a navigator staff person when I was in college that was considered "hard core" and the most godly man any of us would ever know. He would sleep 3 hours a night, have Bible studies (for no clear reason) at 3 AM. He about pushed us over the edge, until it dawned on me that he was mentally ill. I was studying psychology at the time (but as an Evangelical didn't believe most of it) but I realized that he had a severe mania. Soon after wards he crashed and burned and was put on lithium to stabilize his mood. But it was interesting that we thought he was super-spiritual because of the non-stop pace he ran.

No I have not read Toxic Faith, but sounds like I should. I know that I won't do this topic justice, but some things brought it up to the foreground recently.

I'll be back to finish this post today I hope.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know another man (my husband's best friend, a pastor for a Calvary Chapel) who is without-a-doubt undiagnosed bipolar. He views mania as true spirituality and his depression as faithlessness/sin. I feel SO sorry for his family... :( But, like in my situation, the church itself is generally clueless and views him as a "sold-out" Christian.

Personally, I think that the conservative church's disdain/skepticism with regards to psychology (in general) is biting them in the butt.

My old church is dealing with a girl in DEEP depression right now and they think that by helping her "get her theology straight," and praying for her, they can help her out of this. They send her to professionals when she gets flat out crazy, but otherwise they view THEMSELVES as the ones who she should be working with, and the professionals as sort of underling-assistants.

What would most help this girl is if the professionals were viewed as the professionals and the pastor and his crew realized that THEY themselves are the underling-assistants. Ergh.

It would be funny in that it's so ridiculous, but it's not because it involves real people with lives being destroyed.

Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this, obviously... :)

Anonymous said...

I've heard that a LOT of the movers and shakers in history would today be diagnosed as low-end bipolar. It was their manic phases that gave them the energy to change history -- for better or for worse.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know another man (my husband's best friend, a pastor for a Calvary Chapel) who is without-a-doubt undiagnosed bipolar. He views mania as true spirituality and his depression as faithlessness/sin. I feel SO sorry for his family... :( But, like in my situation, the church itself is generally clueless and views him as a "sold-out" Christian.) -- AdventuesInMercy (Molleth)

Why doesn't that surprise me? I live in Orange County, where Calvary Chapel began, and they have been my poster boy for what can go wrong with Christians for a LONG time. Cavalry Chapelites are prone to the extreme forms of what Christian Monist calls "Platonic Dualism" and would give his memories of the Navigators a good run for their money in uberspiritual "cultic" behavior.

(When I was listening to local Christian (TM) AM Radio in the Eighties, CC Costa Mesa's radio preacher was obsessed with bashing Star Wars any chance he got, and CC West Covina's pastor was foaming at the mouth anti-Catholic.)

-- Headless Unicorn Guy

MJ said...

HUG, I was wondering if not a lot of people at the very top in history were not suffering from some mental illness. Surely Hitler was narcissictic . . . Nero . . . Leader of TBN or Daystar . . . Benny Hinn . . .

Anonymous said...

Remember what you said about your abnormal psych class? The warning from your prof that once you start studying the DSM, it becomes all too easy to diagnose everybody as "Abbie Normal"?

That said, we had one spectacular case out here in SoCal of a guy losing it in some sort of Christian Axis II way some years ago. Remember the guy with the rainbow fright wig who'd hold up the "John 3:16" sign whenever the camera was on him at public events? Inspiration for the Steve Taylor song "Bannerman" and cameoed in crowd scenes in The Simpsons et al?

Well, after several years in the news and being the Darling of Christian Media, the guy lost it completely. Back in '92 he pulled a hostage situation at the LAX Airport Hyatt, taking a hotel maid hostage and hanging bedsheets out the window with Bible verses spray-painted on them, demanding media coverage for his End Time Prophetic Word or something. LAPD SWAT team pulled him out of there without casualties, and he's still in the slammer for it. Some noist about "PERSECUTION!" when he got sentenced, but soon forgotten by the Christian Media that used to cover him.

The question I always had about the guy was that he didn't just snap overnight. He must have been in contact with people as he was losing it; why didn't any of them notice his progression from eccentric to out-and-out crazy? Was it because they mistook his growing craziness for holiness? His delusions for Prophetic Gifts? His madness for the Holy Spirit? Or was it "He's WITNESSING (TM) FOR CHRIST and SOULS ARE BEING SAVED!!!!"?

Headless Unicorn Guy
(P.S. I'm very familiar with the hotel where he did it, now a Radisson(?) where Century crosses Sepulveda at the airport entrance. It's long been a favorite venue for SF and wargamers' cons.)

MJ said...

Wow HUG, I never heard the "rest of the story." I too remember him being held up as an example of someone totally devoted to Christ. In today's market he would have his own TV show and a couple of best-seller books . . . maybe a kids video series (and a left behind type of book series for kids).

When I was in Egypt, I met a missionary couple who just arrived in town. It took me about 10 sec to realize the guy was nuts, plus he abused his wife horribly. She was not allowed to ship any of her kitchen things, clothes . . . but he shipped two big crates of his books and hobby stuff. He made her go to an Egyptian street (butcher) doctor (one that has very little training and only the poorest people use) to do a c section on his wife. She came very close to dying . . . why? Because he was zealous for God and wanted to relate for the poor (I think even mother Tresea would have sought good medical attention).

He lasted in Egypt only weeks because he was behaving like the Rainbow man. He stood on a box in downtown Cairo and started to preach (in English) that they, Muslims, were all going to hell. He was quickly arrested and exported.

Then (flash ahead three years) I get a brochure about a big Evangelical conference in New England (Boston I think) and one of the Key note speakers was this guy . . . Bob. Under his name it listed how he had been persecuted and imprisoned in Egypt for "his faith."

Bob treated his wife like a carpet . . . using her (much like the Taliban) with spiritual manipulation for his own narcissistic reasons. But who would call him on it until he kills her (hum maybe a book deal of how his wife died from a Satanic attack) or she just goes off the deep end.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's so WEIRD how blind the evangelical community is to all that kind of stuff. As long as they're *saying* all the right things, as long as they've got some charisma, we'll follow them right off a cliff.

I think a big part of the problem is related to Christianity being viewed as a faith in "right beliefs." We determine whether or not someone is "mature" by how much theology they can spout, or whether they can produce a hum-dinger of a sermon with their charismatic personality.

The whole "love, joy, peace, patience" Spirit-born fruit is completely forgotten...

Anonymous said...

This is not a theological statement but a simple observation of reality. Messed up people remain messed up after they become Christians . . . just that the messiness goes underground.Or gets overlaid and justified with God-Talk. Like an abusive husband who gets Born Again to the relief of his Christian wife. She never realizes he might end up using God to justify the abuse. "WOMAN! SUBMIT! DO AS I SAY OR I BEAT YOU! GOD COMMANDS IT!"

Yeah, it's so WEIRD how blind the evangelical community is to all that kind of stuff. As long as they're *saying* all the right things, as long as they've got some charisma, we'll follow them right off a cliff. -- Molleth

Not just blind, but signing on the bandwagon, taking the crazy's mark on their forehead and right hand because The Holy Spirit Is Speaking Through Him (TM). (In recent spectacles, remember Tatted Todd onstage at Lakeland with his pet angel Emma?)

Now as for Rainbow Man, at first the guy was just eccentric; doing a "Bannerman" is more of a Christianized prank than anything else. But it apparently didn't stay at "eccentricity" and nobody noticed until he was taking hostages and holding off the SWAT team. As MJ put it, he was held up as a role model of someone "totally devoted to Christ".

Ever seen total fanboys like Twihards or Furry Lifestylers? They're totally devoted to Twilight or FURRY. When someone's described as "totally devoted to Christ" (like that 3 hours-of-sleep-a-night Nav role model), you should ask yourself if what's really happening is a can-you-top-this Jesus fanboy.

Headless Unicorn Guy