The Weird, Wicked Possessions and Schizophrenia

M. Kemal Irmak
M. Kemal Irmak

Schizophrenia is generally viewed as a chronic disorder characterized by psychotic symptoms and relatively stable interpersonal deficits. It is one of the most important public health problems in the world. A survey by the World Health Organization ranks schizophrenia among the top ten illnesses that contribute to the global burden of disease. It appears to affect one percent of people worldwide. Because of its early age of onset (average age twenty-five years) and its subsequent tendency to persist chronically, it produces great suffering for patients and also for their family members. It is an illness that affects the essence of a person’s identity — the brain and the most complex functions that the brain mediates. Some of its symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations, produce great subjective psychological pain. Other facets of the illness produce great pain as well, such as the person’s recognition that they are literally “losing their mind” or being controlled by forces beyond personal control. Consequently, it can be fatal — a substantial number of its victims either attempt or complete suicide.

The primary treatment of schizophrenia is antipsychotic medications, but about twenty-five percent of people with schizophrenia are resistant to this type of treatment. Of those people with schizophrenia who do benefit from antipsychotic medication, an additional thirty to forty percent are residually symptomatic despite adequate antipsychotic treatment. All the antipsychotic medications currently in use share a common putative mechanism of action, namely dopamine antagonism. The dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia proposes that excessive subcortical dopamine release linked to prefrontal cortical dopaminergic dysfunction is central to the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. Although all antipsychotics modulate dopamine activity in the brain, via dopaminergic antagonism, there is no incontrovertible evidence that schizophrenia is the result of a primary dopamine abnormality. Dopamine dysregulation is likely to be a secondary consequence of the primary biological causes of the condition. The biological basis of schizophrenia is therefore complex and much more than a dysregulation of dopamine metabolism.

Patients with schizophrenia also experience abnormal perceptions, mainly in the form of hallucinations. A hallucination is a perception without an object, and the most common hallucinations in schizophrenia are auditory. Hallucinatory experiences are generally voices talking to the patient or among themselves. On many occasions, the voice, which can be identified as male or female, is not associated with anyone known by the patient. The voice is experienced as coming from the outside. Particularly, characteristic of schizophrenia is voices that repeat the patient’s thoughts aloud, give commentaries on the patient’s actions or thoughts, or argue with one another and talk to the patient in the third person.

Hallucinations are a cardinal positive symptom of schizophrenia which deserves careful study in the hope it will give information about the pathophysiology of the disorder. The problem is to determine whether the alleged hallucination relates to an event in the real world. The nervous system always operates on sensory input even if that input is internally generated. When asked a patient, “What are the voices saying?” the answer is something like “Bad things.” That is not an answer to the question, maybe because the voices are not saying well-articulated words; they are just sounds construed by the patient, operated on to be “bad things”. We thought that many so-called hallucinations in schizophrenia are really illusions related to a real environmental stimulus. Illusions are transformations of perceptions, with a mixing of the reproduced perceptions of the subject’s fantasy with the real perceptions. One approach to this hallucination problem is to consider the possibility of a demonic world.

In our region, demons are believed to be intelligent and unseen creatures that occupy a parallel world to that of mankind. In many aspects of their world, they are very similar to us. They marry, have children, and die. The lifespan, however, is far greater than ours. Through their powers of flying and invisibility, they are the chief component in occult activities. The ability to possess and take over the minds and bodies of humans is also a power which the demons have utilized greatly over the centuries. Most scholars accept that demons can possess people and can take up physical space within a human’s body. They possess people for many reasons. Sometimes it is because they have been hurt accidentally, but possession may also occur because of love. When the demon enters the human body, they settle in the control centre of the body-brain. Then, they manifest themselves and take control of the body through the brain. Demonic possession can manifest with a range of bizarre behaviours which could be interpreted as a number of different psychotic disorders. On many occasions, the person has within him more than one demon, and often they talk from their voices. They, therefore, cause symptoms such as hearing voices and certain delusions.

As seen above, there exist similarities between the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia and demonic possession. Common symptoms in schizophrenia and demonic possession such as hallucinations and delusions may be a result of the fact that demons in the vicinity of the brain may form the symptoms of schizophrenia. Delusions of schizophrenia such as “my feelings and movements are controlled by others in a certain way” and “they put thoughts in my head that are not mine” may be thoughts that stem from the effects of demons on the brain. In schizophrenia, the hallucination may be an auditory input also derived from demons, and the patient may hear these inputs not audible to the observer. The hallucination in schizophrenia may, therefore, be an illusion — a false interpretation of a real sensory image formed by demons. This input seems to be construed by the patient as “bad things,” reflecting the operation of the nervous system on the poorly structured sensory input to form an acceptable percept. On the other hand, auditory hallucinations expressed as voices arguing with one another and talking to the patient in the third person may be a result of the presence of more than one demon in the body.

It has been shown by World Health Organization studies that faith healers may help patients with psychiatric disorders. Currently, the churches in the United Kingdom retain the services of faith healers, the task of whom is to expel the demons in cases of real possession. Peter Rollins is an Anglican priest in London. Prior to the priesthood, he was a trained and qualified psychiatrist. He turned to the priesthood and exorcist feeling that medicine failed to address certain human sufferings. Similarly, B. Erdem Alaca is a local faith healer in Ankara, Turkey, who expels the evil demons from many psychiatric patients with the help of good ones. B. Erdem Alaca contends that on occasions, the manifestation of psychiatric symptoms may be due to demonic possession. An important indicator of his primary suspicions about the possession is that, if someone has auditory hallucinations, he would remain alert to the possibility that he might be demonically possessed. His method of treatment seems to be successful because his patients become symptom-free after three months.

Above considerations have led to the suggestion that it is time for medical professions to consider the possibility of demonic possession in the aetiology of schizophrenia, especially in the cases with hallucinations and delusions. Therefore, it would be useful for medical professions to work together with faith healers to define better treatment pathways for schizophrenia.

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