Can Demons Cause Mental Illness?

Can a demon cause a mental illness in a person?

Fr Fortea answers:

A. Demons can tempt us, and they sometimes do so in a continuous way with  great intensity. As such, a demon could provoke an obsession, phobia,  depression, or another type of mental illness in a person. This can  seriously disturb a person’s ordinary life to the point of making him  unbalanced. So, yes, a demon can cause mental illness – but only if God permits  it. (Of course, everything that occurs must either be willed or at least  permitted by God.)

Given the internal mechanism that is used to cause temptation – that is, the  infusion of a thought or image in our intellect, memory, or imagination – this   modus operandi can be used in such a pernicious way that it can unbalance  a person. This is well within the power of a demon. The only thing that can  prevent this activity is the will of God. So does God  always  prevent  demons from causing a mental illness in a person? Undoubtedly, no. But this is  the exception, not the rule. In most cases, mental illnesses have purely natural  causes.



19 thoughts on “Can Demons Cause Mental Illness?

  1. Demons and demonology are certainly very real in the long Judeo and Christian history. The great personality of evil is very real, but to quote an Orthodox theolog here: “the world is hopelessly “polluted” with sin, evil and death. In the original Christian worldview, there is no room for our modern dichotomy of the “spiritual” and the “material. It only knows man in his totality, in the organic unity and interdependence of the spiritual and the physical in him. The whole world is poisoned and sick, and the liberation therefore is not only “spiritual” but also “physical”… (Alexander Schmemann). But how to define this, must be both biblical and theological, and yet too somewhat in psychology, especially the clinical aspect, in medicine and science. But man or humanity is always ‘body/soul and spirit’, made somehow in the image of God. But we have quite lost the living-essence of this image! So WE “must” have God, and God’s intervention, and in our totality, or we will lose ourselves, as we lose our God! Lord have mercy!

    1. So very true and very well put! I recall in one of his talks, Fr. John Corapi spoke about this very topic. He stated that although a particular mental illness may have psychiatric/psychological origins, it will simultaneously/automatically have ‘spiritual involvement’ as well. He went on to say that the Devil or demons know our weaknesses and in a more particular way, mental aberrations, so will ‘latch-on/grab-hold-of’… – complicating & infesting Body, Mind & Spirit; of course, in ‘complete possession’ the “Will” is under the power of the Evil One. I suspect that is why many people cannot find total healing & well-being – they often overlook the ‘spiritual’ or the health-of-the-Soul; a ‘good confession’ does wonders!

    2. Though thankfully our ideas about mental illness and its treatment are no longer medieval. Your comments about Orthodox theology here remind me a bit of the little old babushkas throwing sticks & stones at cats and worrying about the “evil eye”. My daughter-in-law’s mid-90-year-old grandmother is Polish and fits that to a “t”. 😉

      1. I am not sure that is a positive feed-back here, but then many Orthodox are somewhat like some in Roman Catholicism, and get well involved in exorcisms. But no amount of Ritual is going to chase evil completely away. But surely the right theological and liturgical will help man in his ascent to freedom ‘In Christ’. And Baptism is always that great eschatological sign & seal for us as ‘In Christ’! But this “world” is always fallen! (1 John 15-17)

      2. I believe it was St. Thomas More who said: “God loves the plants for their Simplicity, the animals for their Innocence and Man for his/her Mind”. The Human Mind is a wonderful and yet terrible Gift; so then could not/would not the “Mind” be THE means of force for Evil to manipulate, control & be controlled. If you do not KNOW your enemy–THE Enemy, you will play right into his hands and–in pride–even reduce him to mere superstition; “throwing sticks and stones at cats” constitutes ‘animal abuse’, nothing more. However, it does reveal a ‘deeper grasp on the many faces of evil’–a manifestation of Evil against God’s Creation–the cruel act or violence toward innocent creatures. So, the “evil eye” is–in reality–in the MIND of these peasant people–acting out violence, albeit in ignorance, to God’s innocent creatures. So…we are back to the Human MIND and its many disorders, illnesses etc….
        Once again, demons may not be a ‘direct cause of mental illness’, but there is Always an implication/a ‘negative pregnant’, because of the ‘nature of sin’ and Creation’s fallen condition! Science would make great strides forward IF they recognized the ‘Spiritual Involvement’ in the many forms of mental illness…and–like Christ–lift the burdens of many a Soul suffering under its yoke!

        Also, Jesus performed Exorcisms and directed HIS Disciples to do so as well! Making lite-of/a joke of “orthodox theology” is to poke-fun of the ‘Gospel of Christ’! And here again, the Devil or Diablo–is once again on his ‘mission of division’–for the sake of dividing and defacing…the ‘Image of God’ in Man…and the ‘main port of entry’ is the MIND!

      3. Amen Margaret: I have learned quite some time ago to take the reality of “Evil”, with a capital E very seriously! And the “battle” is always for the mind, the interior door or place of the spirit! Garbage in, garbage out, as they say!

      4. The reality of evil for mankind is sin. Ultimately it is sin we battle. For the wages of sin are death. And we repent from our sin. Christ died for our sins and he saves us from our sin.

        Some define evil as the absence of good.

        My only thought was tied to two things. First, Those who spend their time looking for demons tend to find them wherever and whenever they want to. Salem witch trials. Burning of heretics. Anti-Christs galore (from Islam to communism). Second, humans tend to blame the devil and demons for as much as we can. The devil made me do it. Or the devil cause a specific earthquake. Sadly for so many people over time, including even today, they were (still are) very superstitious. As if the Gospel could be replaced by magic or incantations. Astrology. Lucky rabbits feet. Numerology.

  2. @Michael: I agree with the reality of sin being death, but the depth of this in humanity is also seen in the etymology of Paul’s great word for Sin, which is “Hamartia”, Gk. ‘for missing the mark’! And this is the most comprehensive term for moral obliquity. It is used of sin as a principle or source of action, or an inward element producing acts…”sin, that it might be shown to be sin,” i.e. ‘sin became death to me, that it might be exposed in its heinous character:’ in the last clause, “sin might become exceeding sinful,” but this only comes through the holiness of the Law, the true nature of sin was designed to be manifested to the conscience. (Rom. 7: 8 ; 11-13, etc.) In the end, Sin is really an existential reality, always at the very depth of ourselves as we seek to listen to and obey God, and it is really here that the Law/Gospel always presses us even to the deepest place for ourselves in the eschatological tension! (Rom. 8: 22-23, etc.) But, Paul also talks about the very special character of this with “the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6: 11-12). Indeed this reality is very profound and personal! And we also know the enemy and adversary of God is a great liar, even “the father of lies” (John 8: 44). So we must be careful not to make evil the mere negation or absence of something. Indeed this “spiritual” battle of good and evil, God and Satan has been about since before time! (Rev. 12) But too, God is not a dualism, but the Sovereign God, who knows and allows evil, and uses it ultimately for His great purpose and glory! And glory be to GOD here “Christ Jesus” is the great and very Victor of God, over all sin & death.. .”Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” (Col. 1: 13-14-15) Always again in the end is only God’s Revelation here! And we bow our heart, mind and knee before HIM!

    1. Fr. Robert, As confessing Christians we believe in the reality of Hell, the Devil, and Evil. But how the Devil and demons interact with us today in an ongoing way is different issue. It appears for most Christians living out their lives on a daily basis today that their struggles with sin and their experiences with God’s grace don’t tend to directly involve an active interaction with Satan or demons. That isn’t to say they aren’t somehow involved in our reality, but we just don’t tend to perceive them in any meaningful way. And we don’t perceive them like people did at earlier times. When they are perceived today it seems as if the cases are rare and out of the ordinary. Most of us just struggle with our daily lives. I tend to find discussion of their current activity more theoretical, anecdotal, and highly speculative. What they can do versus what they are doing now. A lot like discussions about issues tied to anti-christs and the dating of the end times. I don’t tend to find that these sorts of speculations do much real good to help or sustain Christians going about their lives, and an excess in speculations usually is counterproductive, often taking people away from the Church and their fellow Christians.

      1. @Michael: I am sure in some sense we could say that the study of the Judeo-Christian theology has always been somewhat speculative, anecdotal and theoretical in many ages, but surely St. Paul’s use of “principalities and powers” (note Paul uses it both in the singular and the plural, is simply quite Pauline and important theologically! Col. 1: 10 / Rom. 8: 38 / Col. 2: 15 / Eph.1;21 ; 2: 10 ; 6: 12, to name a few) Indeed Paul always saw and knew this whole reality was “spiritual”! Without doubt Paul’s text of Eph. 6: 12, really with his whole texts of 6:10 thru 20 are surely central.

        For myself, the loss of seeing Modern Israel in its land today, and thus too noting the great increase of the Gentile Nations in apostasy, is surely not “speculative”! Indeed God has a sovereign purpose in His Salvation History (Eph. 2: 10-11), noting that central place of the Church of God, itself, in both earthly and toward the heavenly! And when we look back to Ephesians chapter 1, verses 3 – 11, and the great doctrine of Predestination, both the corporate and the individual. Indeed HERE is always part of that great spiritual battle!

      2. Fr. Robert, All of my comments above are only directed to the basic thrust of the initial story’s idea about demons and mental illness. I’ve said nothing about Israel, then or now.

        The discussion about mental illness and demons reminds me of something the local Anglican Archbishop discussed during his recent Lenten adult studies class on miracles. He mentioned how his jurisdiction had to create guidelines and protocols to handle cases of purported demonic possession/activity. The critical component was always to thoroughly investigate and eliminate any demonic causality where something else was an issue. So my thought then was that only if and when one has absolutely eliminated any and all other potential natural, scientific causes would one even begin to contemplate the demonic. It is always a last potential explanation and never a first; one should never just assume the demonic unless and until all other potential causes are properly evaluated and eliminated. In our world, sometimes people want to leap to the demonic explanation well before it is time to even start thinking about it. Based on the totality of scientific, documented cases that are out in the public domain, potentially proven demonic activity seems to be a very tiny percentage of initially purported cases. And few Christians seem to report actually battling Satan or the demonic. This differs from the past where demonic activity was often initially thought present as a likely explanation and when scientific methods and knowledge were sorely lacking.

      3. @Michael: I saw this… “A lot like discussions about issues tied to anti-christs and the dating of the end times.” Thus Modern Israel.

        Btw, your approach to the so-called demonic is most certainly Western and as you say,”scientific”, rather than the biblical in and of itself. As I have expressed somewhat from St. Paul. Perhaps few Christians today seem to report actually battling Satan or the demonic, because they don’t know the battle? After all, the spirit and thus spiritual is hardly seen in the scientific realm, per se. In reality, the demonic is spiritually seen and experienced, more than in signs & wonders! Note our best monastics here. The interior life is the real issue of the “spirit”!

        I think of Scriptures like 2 Cor. 2: 14-17 ; with 2 Cor. chapter 4. Sadly many so-called Christians appear to know almost nothing experientially of such Texts like 2 Cor. 4: 2-11, etc. The Christian life is just that, “Life”, and life with Christ in the Spirit, and not just legal or ecclesiastical forms. Of course not that we don’t want or need these, but they always point to the reality In Christ! 🙂

      4. Fr. Robert, When I think Anti-Christ I’m thinking more say…Luther and others in 16th century arguing that it was Islam and that they were in the end times. Totally wrong on both counts. And they were just part of a long line of Christians before them arguing who was the Anti-Christ and how the end was nigh. Each and every one of whom was wrong about both the Anti-Christ and the end time.

        Matter is a part of the created world. As are the various laws of physics, thermodynamics, etc. That is how God chose to create His universe. That doesn’t mean I reject the meta-physical. Just that angels/demons are metaphysical/supernatural. I can’t experience them like I can water in baptism or bread and wine in the Eucharist. God uses the natural as part of his chosen processes, even those tied to His grace. And, of course, the Incarnation involves the joining of the natural to the divine.

        I’m just glad we’ve matured past hunting witches and burning heretics at the stake. 😉

      5. @Michael: My good father was a scientist and physicist, and so I certainly respect real science. But I have found that the Biblical Creation is not really about science so much, as it is that profound aspect of who God IS! So in reality the so-called meta-physical is actually closer to the biblical revelation itself. And the biblical revelation has been given in and through the Jewish people, but with too the Greco-Roman of a St. Paul, and most certainly too the Jewish aspect of the Hellenistic. All this we see in the NT Scriptures.

        And we must certainly be able to see that man’s time on this earth is not evolutionary, and that the Salvation History of God is Jewish and covenantal. So time is itself only temporary and not really linear. And humanities end is always eschatological. Indeed God is moving His revelation towards a real certain end! You will find me truly apologetic towards God’s Revelation being an economy of/in time, with recapitulation, both in inauguration and consummation, with participation in truth, with canon, and life and faith, and salvation by the Doctrines of Grace! So in some sense my theology would be somewhat close to the basic thoughts of Irenaeus, but most certainly Reformational and Reformed, with Calvin and more of the Genevan Reformers, and the tenets of a more modern, if we can call it that, of a “neo-Calvinism”. But most certainly with the renewal of National Israel at the end of this economy. Come Lord Jesus!

  3. Fr. Robert, I’m not discussing the “how” of creation or evolution. God is the Creator. We are the created. Physical creatures who live in his physical universe. Just as angels live in his meta-physical universe. As for the relationship between the physical and the metaphysical…the falls of both angels and man were such immense tragedies!

    Just wondering, have you ever experienced a demon as say Mary did in Luke 1: 26-38? Actually seen it? Spoken with it? Watched it cause something to happen in the physical world?

    1. I have, as I said, never “seen” Evil as in visible signs & wonders, but I have most surely experienced “Evil” in the reality of life and death in combat. And certainly in the loss of the Judeo-Christian culture and moral-doctrinal downgrade in the last 40 years or so! Indeed Satan is alive and well on planet earth! And as I said, watch and see we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in Gentile apostasy! (Matt. 24: 23-24, etc., noting 2 Thess. 2: 3-12, these are of course somewhat “apocalyptic”, but it still manifest the spiritual battle.. even within what we call the life of the “church”!)

      Make no mistake, this is a very real “spiritual” battle! “He that has eyes to see let him see”! (Rev. 3: 18)

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