Catholics who suffer from Mental Illnesses

Over the past several years I have been searching for an answer to the question;
What is the culpability of sin for catholics who suffer from major mental illnesses?

I suffer from bipolar disorder and I have had priests tell me a range of things like because I have a mental illness I can never sin (which I don’t believe at all) to telling me every action I do, whether or not I’m having an episode, is subject to divine judgement and that a mental illness factor should be ignored when it comes to determining the culpability of sin (which I also don’t believe). The “best” I have gotten was a priest telling me the sin is not in my actions, but rather I sin if I don’t follow a proper treatment regiment. Yet my health insurance does not cover psychiatric care, and I make too much money to qualify for community based services unless I want to pay upwards of $120 per hour plus the cost of medication, which places a huge financial burden on my family. So where does that leave me? I have essentially “fallen through the cracks” of the mental health system.

What I do believe is that the society and in many ways the Catholic church lacks a clear understanding of what it means to suffer from the burden of a mental illness and therefore they don’t have a very good way of both theologically and pastorally addressing Catholics like me. This leaves me stuck in the middle of carrying guilt I don’t know if I should have and feeling bad about things that are essentially outside of my control, yet I am struggling to be a good and faithful Catholic.

A priest who believes bipolar disorder makes someone unable to sin, can’t possibly know much about bipolar disorder :o

Of course, a severely manic patient will probably not be culpable for any actions made in such a state - the mania reduces critical sense and self control, and thus consent as well as knowledge may be lacking. At this level of mania, most courts would also, if I believe correctly, conclude there is no culpability, if the act was of criminal matter.

The same could go for severe depression - through weakening the patient’s strength of will, it can cause someone to acts without consent, and in some cases perhaps also knowledge. The Catechism mentions this specifically in relation to suicide.

However, bipolar people are not always manic, and not always depressed. Some are never truly manic, but only experience hypomania, where I believe culpability may absolutely still be present, although perhaps often reduced.

What you were told about the sin being not following a treatment regimen, is in my opinion peculiar. A very common trait of bipolar disorder is that the illness can convince people they’re in no need of treatment, causing them to stop following the treatment plan! Such culpability would also vary with the condition of the patient at the moment, but still, judging from my severely bipolar grandmother, when she went off treatment, she was already rather “far gone”, and most probably not in control of her actions. (She is still alive, but it is common for the disorder to fade with high age; she has been mentally well for years.)

And of course, if you’re not following treatment because you simply can’t afford to, then it is not currently in your hands - falling through the cracks is most certainly not a sin. I do however truly hope you can find a way of getting the treatment you need; bipolar disorder is often easily manageable medically.

It probably sounds like I’m contradicting myself now, going back and forth between culpability and nonculpability, but my point is simply that it is not correct that bipolar disorder leaves the patient unable to sin, but it is correct that during some phases, the patient most likely lacks consent and/or knowledge, and thus is not guilty of sin. Making a blanket statement is impossible, as always: One can never say in general terms that such and such condition (except being comatose) precludes culpability of sin. It is always an individual assessment.

And yes, many in the Catholic Church, clerics as well as lay people, lack knowledge of mental disorders; it is sadly still often taboo-ish in many places. It is one of the subjects in which I wish seminarians received more education, since they are bound to meet many people who suffer from one condition or another.

Lastly, don’t let yourself carry guilt; that never does any good. Go to confession regularly, don’t worry about whether your acts were sinful or not - let the priest and God do that part. And most importantly, leave your sins behind in the confessional. And remember that everyone has struggles, often ones that remain with them for decades, sometimes even for the rest of their lives.

sgrima, I am bipolar 2. I urge you to shop for better health insurance coverage. You owe this to yourself and your family. You need to be there for them 100% of the time, which means taking medication and going to therapy. Another thing about your insurance: as you pointed out, bipolar disorder is familial. G-d forbid, should any of your children show signs of illness, they will be able to get help also. I don’t know how old your children are, but in my case, my illness began to show very, very early in my life.

If you absolutely cannot find better, affordable coverage, search again for community support. The first mental health care that I ever received was from a pay-what-you-can community based program. Granted, this was in a big city, but keep looking for these type of programs. Good luck, and GBU!

You might try Catholic Charities for counseling and treatment at a reduced cost.

I agree. Because mental illness is vast and can we say unpredictable it may be hard to counsel correctly plus the priests don’t have the study or training much less the time to properly address those with mental illness. Sgrim, keep asking the Lord to help and cure you from this illness and always ask him to forgive any and all offenses your aware of or not. My prayers are with you. Thanks for openly sharing with us your situation. We will all keep you in our prayers as well.

There are many psychiatric drugs that are generic and low cost. You can have a nurse practitioner or family practice doctor write you prescriptions. Depakote and lithuim are available as generics along with SEROQUEL.

Those drugs should not be prescribed outside of a ongoing treatment plan with a qualified doctor. That would be a psychiastrist. If they are not prescribed properly and monitored then they can cause more problems than they solve. A nurse practitioner simply does not have the knowledge to manage such a condition and rarely does a family practice doctor. It is only appropriate for such people to write scripts after such medication has been stabilized and in agreement with a qualified specialist. Any changes need to be made by a specialist.

Yes it costs money. It’s money well spent. It should be considered as vital as housing and food for someone who suffers bi-polar. Those are about the only two things I would put before my treatment and I would eat rice and beans if it was the only way I could afford my doctors and my pills. I would say even more so for those who have children in their care. I do not say that to be harsh towards those with bi-polar. I have fairly severe bi-polar myself - I know what both manic and depressive episodes can do. I wouldn’t let any child I had care of be left in the presence of someone with untreated bi-polar.

I, too, have bipolar disorder. I’ve often wondered about culpability, mainly because sometimes it’s hard to decipher if moods and thoughts are you or the disorder. I would talk to a psychiatrist if I were you. They know of many resources one could use.

great question of culpability for those with Bipolar and any other illness as a Catholic

I have suffered from anxiety and depression for decades. I have been hospitalized twice. Try to find a clinic that will work with you based on your family/income situation. Being untreated is not a good thing. It is against the rules to diagnose someone or mention specific drugs. I’ve been to two support groups. Just google bipolar or depression support group for your area. I have personally met people with bipolar, depression, anxiety and other disorders and knowing other people who “get” what I’m going through has helped me.

Getting a solid diagnosis is step one. The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person. You can ask the psychiatrist about the degree of culpability your illness may cause related to your actions. Again, symptoms can vary from severe to mild.

Finally, I suggest contacting the following group:

God bless,

I have had bi-polar for most of my adult life. I agree with another post. YOU MUST GET
THE RIGHT MEDS TO HELP YOU. But, I do not agree with some of the ones mentioned.
I was put on some of them and I had terrible side effects due to the strength and the way they
You should never feel guilty about taking meds and wondering if you are going against the
church and it’s rules. Your health is more important. This is one of the reasons why so many
have left or are leaving the church. It has not kept up with the times and THE TIMES THEY
Bi-polar is not an easy thing to live with. I am 72 years old and I have had it for over 50
years. Most of those years, I struggled without meds. Who knew about this way back?
So, do what you need to do for your own health and live your life to the fullest. Be happy,
be at peace with who you are and what you are and let go and let GOD.
Peace and love,
Alex (Alexandra):thumbsup:

The date on the calendar? It’s the 21st Century. So what? Times don’t change anything. Only people do. When I was first hospitalized over two decades ago, the meds available had more side effects and were fewer in number. As scientists did more actual work, the number of meds grew, side effects were lessened and some meds became more symptom specific, meaning they only treated one thing better.

My friend’s father had bi-polar disorder, and then he had it. He’s dead now but it had nothing to do with being bi-polar. The Church has never said taking medicine was wrong.


I too am Bi-polar, or so I’ve been told. I’ve been diagnosed with many different things, but until I got that diagnosis, the meds never helped. Unfortunately, every person is different, and health insurance decides what you get, not your doctor. I’m currently dealing with a rather dark time thanks to my health insurance saying I don’t meet their critiera for a drug that I have been on, and has worked for me, in the past. :frowning: Couple that with family that just doesn’t understand mental illness, and things can look bleak. If you can find any medicine, light therapy, exercise, anything that will help just a little, please try it for your’s and your loved one’s sake. I will pray for all of you and ask that you will all pray for me. God bless all of us, his special children.


I have found that owns own family may be the ones with psychiatric illness’s. In an alcoholic home most children are severally affected and quietly become enablers to the alcoholic. Even if the alcoholic is no longer drinking their behaviors remain unchanged and those of the members around them. With the help of God one can see the wrong in ones family because he/she has learned what is right through prayer and holy scriptures.

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