Church's View on Mental Illness


I’m not sure that this is the right forum for this question but what is the Church’s teaching on mental/psychological illness? Is there consensus? Individual priests I’ve encountered seem to have very different opinions on the origins/causes of mental illness and how to treat it (much like the rest of society). At one extreme is the priest who told me my mental illness and the mental illness in my family was caused by a generational curse that needed to be healed/repented of. On the other end is a priest who feels everything is biological/chemical in nature and there is no connection to spiritual things whatsoever. Has the Church addressed this issue?


I do not like how the church’s teaching is always supposed to trump our own teaching. We are too ignorant to figure things out on our own. Yet we are punished for our ignorance which usually cannot be changed easily. I come from a family where mental illness runs strong on both sides of my family. What did I do to deserve this? I believe it is a cross not a curse.


Church teaching should trump yours if it’s true.
If Church teaching is wrong - show me.


I want to know the Church’s teaching on this issue no matter what it is.


With this particular issue, where does the church have insight that a mental illness is a curse from God on my family? For the most part, I agree with the church on most issues but this one in particular. I have my doubts.


I am not aware that the Church has ever addressed mental illness as distinct from physical illness. I would be happy to see anything on this issue.

At one extreme is the priest who told me my mental illness and the mental illness in my family was caused by a generational curse that needed to be healed/repented of. On the other end is a priest who feels everything is biological/chemical in nature and there is no connection to spiritual things whatsoever. Has the Church addressed this issue?

The first priest was telling you nonsense. The Church does not teach generational curses. It is doubtless true that illness is biological. I don’t think that the Church has ever taught that there is any direct spiritual connection to illness. Some Christian saints were in very poor health most of their lives.


Where are you getting that this is the Church’s view? This view, while held by individual priests, is certainly not representative of the Church’s view, is it? That’s why I asked my original question; to find out what the Church teaches.


All of creation was brought into being by the Spirit of God. All of living creation is animated by a spirit, either rational, sensitive or vegetative. In Luke 13:10-17, Jesus taught that the stooped woman was bound by the evil one. Once he was cast out, she was healed. Physical manifestations of the spirit are observable, while the spirit itself, being immaterial, is not. I do not think that we can exclude either aspect in the healing process.

The catechism explains the teaching on illness in sections 1264, 1500-1505, and 2448.


Yes, The Church has addressed the subject of those who suffer from mental illness. What follows is addressing MI from a moral theology perspective.

I have come across some appalling attitudes to mental illness and those who might suffer it - and from priests. But then by far in the majority are those priests who state they do not understand it at all, as well as those priests who have never received any sort of training in MI and perhaps a bit fearful of it but only because they do not understand it, but are willing to learn.
It seems to me to be a matter of educating our priests. It is a very important subject since statistics state that one in four will experience some form of MI and those statistics are probably now out of date and the situation has worsened.

What follows is only an excerpt from Cardinal Barragan’s address. The full text, at times, can be heavy wading and addressed to mental health professionals. Nevertheless, the entire text is worth a read.

ADELAIDE, Australia, FEB. 18, 2006 (

**Here is an excerpt of an address Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, prepared for World Day of the Sick. The main events of the World Day were held Feb. 9-11 in Adelaide.

The Mentally Ill - A Faithful Image of God
In Christian thought it is said that these severe mental illnesses reduce man to sad conditions, like a deformed image of God, which is compared to the suffering servant of Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1-7). Yet, apart from that deformation, or rather due to it, the mentally ill person resembles our Lord on the cross; and since the cross is the only way to the resurrection, the mentally ill person, has so to say a superior level, is worthier and reaches such a level of excellence because of the magnitude of his love and the suffering he endures.
Therefore, once the mental illness has caused such a disorder as to take away from the mentally ill patient any responsibility for his actions — qualifying them as separation from the divine will, as a sin — the mental patient cannot separate from God.

In other words, the image of God in him cannot be distorted. In this case his knowledge or his volitive option is no longer sufficient to motivate any human action that separates him from God. His bodily and psychic conditions do not allow him to commit a grave sin, given that in his state of disequilibrium he does not have that full knowledge and ability of assent required to sin.

If we approach the argument from this point of view, whereby the mentally ill patient does not have the knowledge or the faculty of full consent required to commit a mortal sin, his is not a deformed image of God, since that image can only be deformed by sin. Certainly, it is the suffering image of God, but not a deformed image. He is a reflection of the mystery of the victorious Cross of the Lord. Inspired by the image of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 53:1-7) we are drawn to a conscious act of faith in the suffering Christ.
This is not comprehensible to a secularized mentality; it is only understood within the context of Christian optimism, which stems from a reasoned faith that tells us how in such circumstances our obligations towards a mentally ill person, on one hand, satisfy our duty to see the suffering Christ in the poor and less protected; and on the other hand the idea of seeing in the patient the love of God who has indicated him as his chosen one, in the sense that he shall not be separated from Him.

He is therefore a proof of the crucified love of God. Hence, the best thing we can do is to give them a treatment of love. Since the mentally ill patient is also the image of the resurrected Christ, we have the obligation of being the “Good Samaritan,” that is, providing all that is necessary for his care.


No, the Church has not addressed this issue specifically. Just as the Church has not addressed cancer specifically.


See my previous post. Perhaps the reason The Church has not addressed cancer specifically is because there is no inaccurate and false stereotyping of a cancer patient - no moral implications generally speaking - while false stereotypes and false moral implication does abound often with sufferers of MI. Such false information does increase the sufferings of those with MI and can even impede any potential progress towards a more stable state of existence.


Mental illness can be generational in one sense, esp. if it is found on both sides of the family. There would be a stronger tendency for problems to manifest. It is in your “genes” so to speak. Blame it on DNA, if you will, but don’t label it as a curse. Once you recognize that it is what it is, an illness-health issue, you can often deal with it with proper medication and good counseling. A curse comes from Satan, not from a biological source. Tell the good Father I said so…so there. Peace and prayers.

BTW, as I post this we have a super full moon, and yes, it does have some effect on the body, but you don’t necessarily need to howl at night.!:smiley:


The Church’s view of mental illness can be put quite simply:

No matter the cause of the MI (nature or nurture) it is an illness when the mental functioning is not as it should be in a normal type of course. This does mean that morally, the person may not have the complete freedom of will necessary for full consent or even full knowledge. Therefore, the person suffering mental illness is probably not capable of serious sin - and only serious sin can rupture one’s relationship with God.
This is very basic sort of moral theology.

Mary Estelle, I think, is quite correct in that medication and sound therapy can very often bring the sufferer into a more stable state of mind - more in control, even bring the person back into complete control.

Cratus too stated something important about mental illness and that is that it is a (severe)cross and a suffering to be borne, not a curse inflicted of any kind. It is an illness and health issue as with heart disease, cancer, diabetes etc.

In extreme instances where The Church might perform exorcism, the first move made by The Church is to have the person checked out by a psychiatrist. Rather often the symptoms of serious mental illness might appear to be something that they are most definitely not. The person is not at all in need of a priest and an exorcism, rather a doctor and treatment for a mental health issue.



The Church holds that the human body, being physical, can be studied scientifically; and the brain, as a part of the physical human body, is subject to illness and amenable to clinical treatments.

However, in addition to a solid head, we have a spiritually–powered mind; which can likewise be affected spiritually.

Remember also that “something a priest says” is not, per se, Church teaching. The only priest who pronounces Church teaching perfectly lives in the Vatican. :slight_smile:



Having been accused and blamed for what they all thought of as mental illness for decades… and that covers several churches…

I see mental illness as modern leprosy.

There is fear and there is more fear and no one knows what to do is my impression.

The churches who believe in eg generational curses tend to blame . I was blamed many times and accused of not having enough faith to be healed… buck passing too.

Miracle is I stayed with Jesus Who held me,

BUT always individual Christians of many denoms who stood between me and extinction , especially two nuns. one Anglican, one Catholic

Whatever you decide is the policy of the church, each of us can live compassion for those afflcted as we would in physical illness that is easier to cope with

My deepesrt thanks to all who did .

At base, it is fear is it not?


This is, frankly, the sort of topic that it is impossible to do justice to in 6000 characters

I’m always leery when I see “the Church’s teaching” since that formulation has a dogmatic quality to it – an air of finality. The Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin comes to mind
We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful
Here we’re not talking about teaching in that sense

BarbTh has splendidly offered a representation of texts I would have also referenced. They’re, frankly, more exhortatory than they are authoritatively declarative because of the nature of the thing

Those of us who work in cross-discipline, such as a priest who is a psychologist for example, know the benefit derived from the meeting of the two – whether the priest is working on the psychological evaluations of candidates for priesthood or using his background as a therapist in terms of counseling those whose pastoral needs intersect with psychological pathologies, or those part of providing holistic care to those in some form of treatment, as happens with priests, religious and other pastoral care providers

Just as the Church understands the provision of physical health care may take many forms, so she understands that mental health care provision may take many forms and engage a variety of models from the medical/pharmacological/biochemistry end of the spectrum to the various schools related to behaviour modification, hypnotherapy, etc

If I could offer my insights from my years…the Church’s concern would be that the person receive the best, most beneficial form of treatment that could be provided in the circumstances, as they are

A holistic approach to caring for the human person is essential. A person is not the condition that is being treated…whether the condition is cancer or a post traumatic stress disorder or a psychiatric disorder resulting from a major medical pathology. They’re an embodied person…the body needs care, the mind needs care, the emotions need care and the spiritual needs also must be met – by professionals who each have a critical and irreplaceable role to play

I’ve seen, on many occasions, the chaplain’s pastoral care providing “hope” at a level beyond the surgeon’s very excellent presentation on the procedure to resolve a major, life-threatening condition. Each are playing a critical role but the positive impact will be received differently by different patients

i remember once, long ago, on a special assignment on foreign mission, discovering to my acute horror that I was, in fact, the village’s mental health professional by default. There wasn’t anything else. Suddenly I had back the white coat, as it were, as well as my black soutane. I shall never forget it. Thankfully, I had no complex issues, like multiple personality disorder…the issues were relatively textbook – and I had access by phone for those situations that needed pharmacological intervention and psychiatric referral

But in all the years since, I have never looked a medical missionary in the eye in the same way…as they find themselves serving those to whom they are sent, not with what they could wish they had or might get but making the best of the actual resources they had in the present moment to do the very best they could

A beautiful recommendation I’d make to you is that of Salvifici Doloris, the document of Pope St John Paul II on the salvific value of human suffering – in all its forms – and how it can only be ultimately understood through the lens of theology…that it’s ultimately only comprehensible through the mystery of the Cross. It’s a masterpiece document

As for two of your comments…
At one extreme is the priest who told me my mental illness and the mental illness in my family was caused by a generational curse that needed to be healed/repented of. On the other end is a priest who feels everything is biological/chemical in nature and there is no connection to spiritual things whatsoever
This is why I have long been a voice crying in the wilderness that psychological coursework as it is presently in priestly formation is woefully inadequate.

The first priest is coming from a certain school of spirituality that I am not going to denigrate in this forum. This sort of charismatic-based prayer can indeed be of utility to people who are suffering from some form of spiritual oppression – which is a discussion for another thread – with no presence of a psychological pathology or psychiatric condition. Its misapplication when the person is in acute psychological or psychiatric distress is no less pastoral care malpractice than saying to a patient with acute appendicitis that her remedy is a laying on of hands. Pray for the patient by all means. Anoint her and provide her the range of the sacraments…but she needs to be in a surgical theatre for an appendectomy, STAT

The second priest, on the other hand, has missed the boat at the opposite end of the dock. I’ve worked with people for whom their journey to wellness, if not wholeness, involved prayer, the sacraments, pastoral care, the helps that can come through a relationship with a psychological counselor and/or behaviour modification AND medical or pharmacological interventions working in tandem. The person is an integrated reality and each aspect of their components have to be addressed harmoniously


There are many types of “mental illness”. Some of it has to do with defense mechanisms that outlive their usefulness. Neurotic repetition can be addressed and solved in therapy. When it is the cause of ongoing abuse, one has to look further. I think generational curses are not out of the question. Some families are cesspools of evil. Mine is one of them. Anyone would have a right to be depressed in such environments because the burdens on individuals are too great.



A generational curse is not a curse from God. It would be a curse that someone placed on your family lineage generations ago.

It can be done by someone placing a curse on a family/person through the practice of witchcraft or through other occult practices/means. It’s not something that God would do.


Thank you to everyone who posted. It would seem there is no official Church teaching on this issue and there are a wide range of opinions.


Give that first guy a wide berth. He is dangerous. In fact, you might be obliged to report him to a relevant authority.

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