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Religion and Mental Illness – How we define “hyper” religious and what does that mean

religion and mental illnessAre there hyper religious people walking around with schizophrenia or hypo mania that don’t even know it?  Can religion be a springboard to help uncover a mental illness?

I was a holy kid. It started at a young age.  I attended a parish grammar school and religion was the backbone of my education.  During Lent, I’d give up my recesses to attend mass and always did the rosary before I went to bed.  I was the only one in my family that was hard core pious, and the only one that was hypo manic as well. I look back now and can’t help but wonder:  How did my mental illness play a role in fueling my religious devotion?

An easy answer for a reason why people with mental illness can be hyper religious is they need some type of hope so they turn to God for answers or understanding.  This is a go-to description that is somewhat obvious.  When we are confused or lost in life, we often times turn to God for guidance. But, what if it’s more complicated than that?  What if the written word of the bible enters the brain and interprets religious writings differently in a person with mental illness?

When I worked in psych wards the patients that were considered “hyper” religious would carry a bible under their arm all day long or point out passages that spoke to them directly.  I began to wonder what the correlation was between the bible and individuals suffering from a mental illness.  Their passion and commitment to God would be noted in their chart: “patient suffers from hyper religion.”  That notation was supposed to denote that the patient was in a manic episode fueled by an obsession with a higher power, or had delusions from schizophrenia; that God was talking to them directly.  Does that mean they actually heard a voice that was an audio hallucination, or that God was spiritually connecting with them?  There is a big difference between hearing an actual voice versus feeling God’s spirit within.  One’s concrete and one’s abstract.

There are plenty of people around the world that have strong beliefs and connections with God; people are even willing to die for their God. So is that the definition of “hyper” religion – a willingness to die for God?  Does a person have to have a mental illness to be considered a hyper religious individual? Or perhaps there is no relationship between hyper religion and mental illness.

What do you think?  Does hyper religion mean you are mentally ill?

How do you define hyper religion?  Did the tragedy of the world trade center occur by some individuals that actually heard an audio hallucination that specifically told them to do it?

These are difficult questions to analyze but one thing is for certain: in an inpatient psych setting, a person responding to a voice they claim to be God is considered a symptom of an acute mental illness.  “God told me to stab my mom.”  That schizophrenic patient truly believed God told them to do it and the voice in their head, that is caused my schizophrenia, resulted in her death.

This leads me to wonder: Can hyper religion be a sign of an acute mental illness? Can it help individuals discover they have a mental illness before their first mental breakdown?

A lot of people died on 9/11.  How many of those deaths may have been caused my schizophrenic leaders walking around hearing a direct voice from their God that dictated their actions?  Like I said, it is a dicey topic, but one worthy of analytical examination.

Bible, cross and apple photo available from Shutterstock

Religion and Mental Illness – How we define “hyper” religious and what does that mean

Erica Loberg

Erica Loberg was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She attended Columbia University in New York and graduated with a BA in English. She is a published poet and author of Inside the Insane, Screaming at the Void, What Men Should Know About Women, What Women Should Know About Men, Diamonds From The Rough and Undressed.

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APA Reference
Loberg, E. (2012). Religion and Mental Illness – How we define “hyper” religious and what does that mean. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 19, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Sep 2012
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