“You know these people are out to get us,” the young patient said, his eyes squinting and glaring with anger. “They let us swim in their pool, and give us games to play, but we need to be careful. Did you know they have a graveyard on the grounds?”
As a reporter who worked the medical beat for the local newspaper, I rode with a public relations guide, guards, and a group of mentally ill youth on the grounds of the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.
“Is that so?” I said.
He nodded and continued sharing his delusional thoughts as the driver delivered the load of disturbed kids to the pool.
I met and interviewed a number of mentally ill folks in the seven years I spent on that beat. In addition, I picked the brains of the amazing people who work with these patients—some of them killers.
Not all murderers were on the forensics unit which housed criminals who had been ruled “not guilty by reason of insanity.” There was one kid rumored to have killed his parents. A woman on the general adult unit killed her children. Another woman beat a guard nearly to death with the metal turn handle from a window.
Yet, most patients were more a danger to themselves than to others. One teenager cut her arms trying to get rid the wickedness in her. In addition to the stitched new cuts, scars showed tracks of agony—from her wrists to her shoulders. I saw a middle-aged woman with the same problem.
At the turn of the last century, these types of people were thought to be demon possessed. When knowledge of the brain expanded, doctors at psychiatric institutions, often called insane asylums or lunatic asylums, began to diagnose the causes of mental disease. Often perfectly sane people were housed with the severely disturbed.
The 1899-1900 Board of Lunacy Commissioners reported among those admitted with obvious mental disorders were a number with epilepsy, Down’s Syndrome (labeled idiocy then), paralysis, kleptomania (a compulsion to steal,) sexual paranoia, alcoholic paranoia, religious excitement, ill health, intemperance.
I asked nurses who worked with the patients today if they thought some of their patients, admitted because they were a danger to themselves or others, were demon possessed.
“The patient who escaped recently who had murdered someone in Denver and stabbed him about 70 times, seems to qualify,” one said.
After escaping, the gal was free only about a week, then was caught and returned.
“She goes into a rage if she requests a movie and the store doesn’t have it,” the nurse said. “You never know what will set her off.”
I was told no matter what treatment used, nothing helped some of the patients.
A psychiatrist who had recently become a Christian said, “It’s difficult to tell whether a person is mentally ill or demon possessed. I do my best to counsel them, then I pray for them all. God knows what they need.”
I learned mental illness is a disease like diabetes—it’s often caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Even a brain tumor or injury can cause adverse changes in behavior. So mental illness is a physical problem.
In contrast, demon possession is a spiritual problem and I think Satan takes over the part of brain reserved for God. From what we read in the New Testament and hear from missionaries who encounter it, demons need to be cast out in the name of Jesus--who gives power greater than man's.
I don’t believe a born-again Christian lives in obedience to God can be demon possessed, because scripture says “greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
The goal is to stay close to Jesus, watch what we put into our minds, and shun even the appearance of evil. We’re told, “Submit yourself to God. Resist the devil and he’ll flee from you (James 4:7).
May that thought give you joy at Halloween, when people often dwell on evil.
©Copyright Ada Brownell Oct. 31, 2013