The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Pagan and Magical Community
At least once a day a joke is made in the public chatter regarding "Normal People" or the lack thereof for that matter; as many of us here, or at least the truthful and self aware of us here know that most of us on this site and in our community altogether are a little loose in the noggin. Yes we are all partially dodo brained, at least that's how I am going to present it; so accept it if you are wise, if not perhaps you might learn something later on in hindsight.
In general mental illness (or whichever clinical or pejorative term you would like to use) is quite a common condition affecting billions of people everyday in one way, shape, form or another. Many would even argue that the whole of humanity and thus all consciousness is inflicted by mental illness as it is our nature. However we have to discern from a spectrum of severity, of course the human mind is not perfect, so when we discuss mental illness, we will consider it to be near the spectrum that greatly affects a persons life in some dehabilitating form that impacts their personal, interpersonal, and social relationships and causes moderate to severe interruption in ones daily life.
Now in the comparison this may seem less important, but I assure you it's not, is that as Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, Shamans, and so on we as a minority compared to the rest of the worlds spiritual beliefs systems, we have a statistically 83% greater rate of having a mental illness regardless of actual diagnosis or treatment.
This is quite terrifying and unsettling to think about considering non Pagan's are reported to only have a 19-33% rate of having mental illness. In relative means this means that about one in every four non Pagan people will most likely have a mental illness, while Pagans this means that three out of every four Pagans will have a mental illness. I don't know about you but personally that makes me jittery to think regardless of my own awareness of my mental state and capacity that I am 75% more likely to be nuts than say a Christian, Jew, or Muslim.
Now this is a profound subject for me because I am pagan, but I am also a psychologist. A psychologist is taught to think scientifically and gather data, formulate hypotheses, and think analytically using the scientific method. For most people, they find it difficult to intermix religion and science, however despite the challenge I manage to live with who I am as both an extremely spiritual person and as a psychologist and I manage just fine... for the most part. However I am quite aware that I am mentally ill. I struggle and cope with depression, severe anxiety, and avoidant personality disorder.
In my clinical and personal experience, as well as my research I have concluded, that within the Pagan and magical community, the most common categories of mental illness are depressive and bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, and sleep disorders. Furthermore, although controversial, I find it still prominent that narcissistic personality disorder prevails within the pagan community critically more so than the average; not as much with truly spiritual pagans, more so with younger individuals seeking magic as a means to solve their life's problems, or are grieving, or trying to escape some form of traumatic pain. However, narcissism is still observable in even older and mature truly spiritual pagans, many expressing that because they have lived longer (consciously or not) means their knowledge of the craft and its use is automatically deserving to be accepted or unquestioned and anyone younger or seemingly different than their own core beliefs and thought processes are deemed naive, immature, and often times blatantly accused of being wrong.
There are many correlational and causal relationships that cause this seemingly high rate of mental illness within our community. One outstanding example is that we are challenged with stress and difficulty because we ourselves are considered a minority and even to some we are nothing more than taboo devil worshipers and evil doers. This is extremely burdensome and painful to deal with, not just because it is disrespectful of us and our sacred spiritual beliefs but because most of the time the ridicule and judgment comes from the ones we love; our family and friends. There is also the physical energy it requires to keep up with the rest of society and our loved ones, whether it be continually debating it with them or the maintenance of keeping it hidden and secret which represent unique mental challenges by itself. Thus all of these factors and more contribute to the mental challenges and illnesses we face. By observation and oral communication we can all be seen to exhibit signs of depression as a whole community and as unique individuals.
It is no wonder that we are all bananas and flapjacks, the depression we all have in various degrees is correlated by the social implications of normalcy and justice. They are right, we are wrong, and if we don't worship God, Jehovah, or Allah then we are all going to hell or some other dismal unappealing place. Personally I am not surprised by the Narcissism and Egotists in our community because for those that are younger they are just trying to find a way to cope with life, they may not believe in the spirituality and religion, but they believe the magic can help them find comfort and peace. For the older, more mature of us, those of us that are truly spiritual; the narcissism they exhibit is caused by the years of being criticized, demoralized, and repeatedly being told that they are wrong that their personality develops narcissistic tendencies to relieve the pressure and come to secure terms with their beliefs, identity, and regain their confidence in themselves. It can also be attributed to some cultural and regional backgrounds as some people develop or learn growing up certain traditions, routines, and values. For those types of narcissistic pagans anyone that dare ask questions or challenge said persons beliefs and traditions become automatically suspect or wrong which further creates mental challenges for those just trying to cope and exist in an equally mentally unstable pagan community.
I sometimes reflect and think about how as a spiritual community we struggle to fit into a society and world plagued with bias and discrimination; but after looking at them as opposed to us, we started out as having compassion and support for each other knowing the mutual difficulties we faced but instead there are many times where we are left in the wake of a judgmental society and we somehow have contracted their bias and judgment as if it were a communicable virus.
What is sad is that with the high prominence of mental illness within our community a large majority of it is left undiagnosed and reported, and more so it is left untreated. How can we diminish the amount of mental illness we carry, both for us each individually and as a community together. I know that being depressed or anxious etc. is not something we feel like sharing, either because are to far into our illness that we can't recognize it, or more so because we feel embarrassed, ashamed, afraid, or guilty. We need to understand that these conditions are serious but treatable, and yes while not presenting us in the best of light, these conditions aren't our fault and they are beyond logically reasonable given what we face, cope, and struggle with not just as pagans but as human beings, people, people who have needs, desires, and emotions.
We all want our parents to love us, protect us, and be supportive. We all want to be fed, have warm clothes, and have a comfortable place to sleep and live. We all want to feel wanted, thought of, cared for, feel needed, we all want friends and family to be in our lives when we need them and at the same time give us space when we need it. We want to feel laughter, joy, excitement, and security. We all want to fill our hearts with the intoxicating feelings of romance and love, and we want to be loved in return. All of these things are basic living desires, and we all have them innately within our bodies encoded in our DNA, within our minds in our dreams, and within our spirits in our hearts; each to some varying degree. As human beings and as living beings in general no less and no more than the plants and trees or the fish in the ocean or the other mammals that we cohabit with; we all deserve these things and we should have them.
With barely scratching the surface of the topic I have managed to cover a general overview of the psychology that is unique to the pagan and magical communities, and to the SoM community directly. It is crucial to each of us that we learn more about psychology to a level where we can understand that despite all of our issues and malfunctions that we are still people. We need to be able to recognize and identify when our mental health is not doing so well and we need to have faith and courage to ask for help, because doing nothing not only hurts yourself but it selfishly hurts others as well. Our state of mind is paramount for magical workings, for those of us that actually practice magic in whichever form, we owe it to ourselves and to others as a responsible practitioner to take care of and improve our mental state and functions.
Know that more often than not you and we are stronger than we give ourselves credit. We can stand up and change the way we feel by doing something about it, by having the faith and confidence that you can make a difference in the world, big or small, but no matter what it has to start with you before you can go saving the planet... doing it differently may lead to severe frustration >>
It is funny because one of my most favorite psychology professors Dr. Jennifer Iljas whom I admired so much for her eccentric personality once told me "You want to know the secret to understanding human behavior and mentally challenging dilemmas?" I replied by saying that it would probably get me into trouble one day; that or it would spoil the surprise. She answered anyway by saying "The secret is Jay, that to truly understand, better yet begin to fathom an understanding of the human mind and spirit, is to experience the parts of life which would turn a goldfish into a raving loon, but their memory only lasts 30 seconds; alas insanity!" With that in mind I could never look at a goldfish without thinking it's sad not knowing whether that goldfish experiences bliss, sadness, or insanity every 30 freaking seconds.