Mental Illness and Confession

I have a question related to confession.

First, some background. I was recently diagnosed as Bipolar which means I alternate between mania and depression. The swings in mood for me happens fast (rapid cycling) and changes occur in very short periods of time. I am getting help now and taking medications regularly, therapy and the like and for the first time, life resembles normal (or what people tell me is normal). Good news!

Since being diagnosed, I have become more active in the church and grown deeper in my love and commitment to Christ, even attending a recent Cursillo (awesome by the way). More good news!

As I develop further my relationship with Christ I have started going to confession more regularly. So here is my issue - While I am better mentally, I have been reminded repeatedly that the medicine is not a cure and I may exhibit signs of Bipolar again.

When I am manic, the Ten Commandments are to me more like a check list than a commandment from God and sadly, I fall into sin a LOT. It is easier for me to go to confession now but there are times when I would have to virtually live in the confessional if and when the mania returns.

I know ALL sin must be confessed but how does the church reconcile mental illness with the need for confession? How do I handle those times when regrettably life gets terribly askew? During those times confession is the absolute furthest thing from my mind. (I am at least able to see events for what they are a little better now)

When I swing back around, I feel so rotten, they might as well put a bed for me in the confessional booth.

I know those times exist for everyone but most people have a greater control over their life and mental state than I do.

So bottom line, how do I live up to the church’s expectation of me as it relates to confession without having a terrible case of the scruples? :confused:

May God bless you! :slight_smile:

Things you do as a result of mania probably aren’t even sins. If you wouldn’t do those things when you’re not manic, but only do them as a result of the illness you’re not morally responsible.

Umm, they may be sins, but he would have to discern his culpability with a spiritual director, since he was under the influence of mania, so to speak. Are you normally scrupulous?

It would be a good idea to have a regular confessor, one who knows of your condition, and only go to him for confession if possible. That way he will be better able to advise you regarding your culpability regarding sins committed,

I heard a priest on Catholic answers answer a question like this one time.

He said that more priests need to know about mental illness and confession, and I totally agree with him. People with an OCD might feel more aniexty and unease if told to pray 3 Hail Marys, and 2 Our Fathers, etc, just because numbers make them stressed.

Please, please, please remember that Christ is with you and walking with you on this journey-the other advice given to you by other posters is fantasitc.

We love you and are all praying for you.

Check the catechism; they use terrible wording with reference to a brain illness, commonly mis-termed “mental illness” and such. But, culpability is the issue. If you need the exact reference I have it.
I am not a priest but feel strongly clergy generally do not know enough about this stuff and should be trained. There is an inverse relationship between symptom and sin (the greater the mind and will is impaired, the less the sin, which requires deliberate consent). Having a confessor who knows you personally would be a great help (if he doesn’t have OCD :slight_smile: ). But, no one can ever discern exact culpability levels when illness is involved, any illness. My advice? Find a priest who has some knowledge of “mental illness,” confess it all, worst and not-so-worst, illness driven or not (say so if it is illness driven–you’ll know because you’ll be seeing this stuff in retrospect), and be confident God knows you have this illness of the brain and is pleased you have found help! Hope that helps.

PS. I agree with above post

For a sin to be truly mortal, it must be seriously wrong, one must KNOW it’s seriously wrong, and one must give full consent of the will.

That last area is where your culpability lies. If your condition, while you are performing an act, is one of diminished awareness or self control, then you have diminished culpability.

However, now that you know your diagnosis or your treatment obligations and maybe the stressors that may trigger manic episodes, it becomes more of your responsibility to follow the medical and therapy schedule. If you avoid those and sin, then your sin is more putting yourself in the position where you would go into a manic episode. i.e., not taking your medicine deliberately would become wrong if you know you would regress.

It’s similar for alcoholics who cannot help what happens to them after a drink. Once they are aware they have a problem, avoiding that trigger and avoiding bars and other places where they may be tempted becomes right or wrong.

I think in this day and age, some posters are selling priests short. While they’re not trained per se in psychiatry, many have taken classes in college and grad school. And many have family members who have issues and they have learned just like all of us how mental illness affects one spiritually. In fact, I daresay they see more of it than the average person and probably know more about it.

Find a regular confessor. Advise him of your problem. Remind him in each confession that you suffer from it. Then proceed with your confession.

Good luck.

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I have to say, that entire post was the BEST explanation I have ever read! And as for the quote above, I think Liberanosamalo is right and I am wrong about priests’ education now that I think about it.

Thanks for the post! Yes, I have always felt a lot of guilt and have been apt to go to confession probably more than I should. When the cycle turns to depression then it is even worse. Thanks for your post, good suggestion. I’ll let you know how things progress.

Thanks for the response! I have been told that before. And I really want to believe that, except when there is a semblance of normalcy in my life, I have terrible guilt for all the terrible things I have done (or caused to happen). So, not confessing those things seems worse, but confessing them seems like I am confessing things I wasn’t aware of when it happened. I know, hard to grasp that…still trying to get my arms around it myself. With God’s help…

Thank you! May God bless you!

Thank you! May God bless you! My strategy so far has been exactly that - confess it all and let God sort it out so to speak. I am search of a truly good confessor which is a hard task in my opinion. Thanks!

Truly good advice! May God bless you! All I need is a good confessor - short supply down here. Many average and some terrible, none (at least non that I have found) great. I am sticking with everything I have been asked to do so far. Strange feeling “normal”

Truly good advice! May God bless you! All I need is a good confessor - short supply down here. Many average and some terrible, none (at least non that I have found) great. I am sticking with everything I have been asked to do so far. Strange feeling “normal” though. Real temptation to give up as my sense of normal has been historically out of whack…take some time I suppose. So far, so good with God’s help and His strength.

I suffer from bipolar, panic, anxiety, ocd, and depression symptoms…There are times I will go 4-6 weeks without Mass or confession because I’m in between manic-depression moods. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the morning trying to remember if the night before I decided to go back to the Baptist or stay in the catholic Church. :shrug: Unless you suffer then no one knows what we go through…I’ve been to multiple priest, apologetic laymen, read multiple books, etc; and it doesn’t matter… this is a cross we must carry. I go to mass and receive communion regardless of what I did, I trust God knows my condition and ask Him personally for forgiveness…1x a year I’ll go to confession. I don’t feel so guilty like when I use to go every 2 weeks or every week and it was driving my crazy. Blessings!

When I am manic, I say mean or sarcastic things to others. My problem is I know I shouldn’t say them, but I cannot stop myself. It is like I am looking at myself from the outside but am unable to reach mysef to tell me not to do such things. I am fully aware that I am about to sin but have no way to control what comes out of my mouth. I do not know whether I am committing a sin or not. My bipolar disorder is medication resistant, and the doctors have told me I have to learn how to live with this disease without medical help. When I go to confession, my priest always just says to do the best I can. Is that enough?

Yes. NO one except you and God know what goes on mentally, that is why many will tell you to stick to ONE priest because they are just men too…they will give you subjective answers in handling your “cross”. But, remember any good confessor will tell you to seek medical help. They are NOT licensed psychiatrist or counselors. Trust in God above all things.

I have sought medical help for almost 40 years. Every medication has been tried on me as well as psychotherapy. The medication not only does not help, it actually makes me worse. The doctors said there is nothing more they can do for me if I cannot take medication. I have learned to live the best I can without medical help but still have many problems. I just don’t want to go on sinning. When I’m not manic, I can resist sin most of the time, but it seems impossible to do so when I am in the manic state. I am trusting in God as best as I can and am hoping that He understands.

Just do your best and depend on the mercy of God to help to keep you from being discouraged. Keeping looking for ways you had not thought of to improve on “best”. Accept that yesterday’s best might be much better than today’s best. That’s what everybody has to do.

When you realize you are manic (and therefore more susceptible to sin), then when you can particularly try to stay away from particularly tempting situations. Again: like usual, only more so, to the best of your ability.

Then when you go to confession, if you did it and knew it was wrong when you did it, confess it. Do not concern yourself with sorting out whether you had the power not to do it or are culpable or not. Just concern yourself with admitting what you did that was an unacceptable thing to do. Then accept God’s mercy just as unequivocally.

Mostly along the lines of “like usual, only more so”, be intent on repenting and depending on God’s grace. Resist the temptation to get discouraged. God will not give up on you, God will not tire of having you return in true contrition. God knows what you are up against. You can depend on that. Your best is not “good enough”, but your best is all God requires. God will add the rest, and that’s how we will get to be good, not just “enough”, but through and through, and every one of us needs that mercy.

I mean to say this: Your trial is unique, but in the respects that count you are no different and certainly no better or worse than any of the rest of us. You do not have to worry that God didn’t give you a situation that His infinite mercy can’t fix. It’s a journey of a thousand miles for all of us, three steps forward and then two or four steps back, and so God will carry us all most of the way.

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