"Astonishing" Rise in Exorcisms Poses Danger for Mental Health Patients

A new report by Theos, a Christian think tank based in the U.K., warns that the "booming industry" in exorcisms is putting people with real mental health problems at risk.  This rise in new exorcisms is being driven by " immigrant communities and Pentecostal churches which are very open about their exorcism services".   Along with a series of interviews with mental health chaplains and other people involved in mental health, "in the vast majority of cases, the person in question was suffering with mental health issues which required psychiatric assistance."  

The report also includes some of the latest statistics about mental health in the U.K. including the following facts:

  • Almost ten million British adults are diagnosed with at least one mental health  problem each year.
  • Around one in four adults in the UK have been diagnosed with at least one mental health problem over their lifetime.
  •  Mixed anxiety and depression causes an estimated one fifth of all days lost from work in Britain. 
  •  In 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over showed some symptoms of  anxiety or depression, including 22.5% of women
  • A little under 11% of UK adults have had suicidal thoughts over their lifetime and just under 7% have made a suicide attempt. 
  • Between 4% and 10% of people in England will suffer depression over their lifetime. 

 While clerical workers and counselors had worked successfully with regular mental health services,  report author and Theos researcher Ben Ryan warns that more needs to be done to avoid "over-spiritualizing" mental health problems. "There has been an increased focus in the Anglican church on exorcisms, and partially that's in response to increased demand," he said.  " They have been getting more and more people calling them saying there's demand for this.  Outside the established church, there's a huge increase which you can see with your own eyes. If you walk down the Old Kent Road there are flyers and stickers everywhere."

This demand for new exorcisms has sparked a call for new exorcists to be trained.   One source linked to the Vatican described this demand as an "emergency" caused by increased interest in Satanism and occult practices.   While he cautioned that "Only one per cent of people who claim to have problems with demons have real need of an exorcist", many of the new evangelical exorcists offering their services fail to make that distinction and cases of people with legitimate mental health problems being seriously injured or killed during the course of the exorcisms continue to be reported.

While the report concludes by calling for an analysis of the burgeoning exorcism scene in the U.K. and other countries, it may not go far enough.   In the meantime, the extensive media publicity generated by movies and television programs about exorcism and demonic possession will likely continue feeding the demand for more exorcisms and discourage people with real mental health problems from seeking the help they need.

For the report (pdf)


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