How would Jesus be assessed using currently accepted criteria for mental illness diagnosis?
Suppose that Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, not 2000 years ago, but today. Suppose he showed up in Wisconsin. He had formerly been gainfully employed as a carpenter, but he had not worked in many months, indicating a reduced capacity to care for himself. Moreover, he would not be seeking work, because he believed the judgment day—the end of the world—was imminent. He told his followers that he was the Son of Man, sent by God to spread a message of hope and salvation to the world. He said he was a prophet. He believed that God gave him the power to perform miracles: changing water into wine (John 2:1-11), walking on water (John 6:15-21 and Matthew 14:22), feeding multitudes with only two fish and five loaves of bread (Matthew 14:31). He believed he had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, and he did so (John 11:1-44). He was quoted as saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25). He challenged the prevailing religious and governmental authorities, saying that he did not need to abide by their rules because he answered to a higher power: God the Father. Whoa. We have a problem here.
The primary psychiatric diagnostic tool used in the United States today is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, known as the DSM-5. This book is endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, and is a hymnal from which almost every psychiatrist involved in mental illness sings. The DSM-5 is basically a cookbook, designed to allow the psychiatrist to come to a diagnosis and medication decision based on 5-15 minutes with a patient. By identifying 4-5 “diagnostic criteria,” the treating psychiatrist can quickly and efficiently label the patient with a diagnosis, prescribe medication, and move on to the next patient, all in the space of a few minutes. For subjects of involuntary commitment, this practice can impose drastic restrictions on their civil liberty.
So, how would our system handle this problem of Jesus of Nazareth? He would in all likelihood be detained by the police, and incarcerated in the detention center or a lock-down psychiatric ward. Within 72 hours, he would be brought before a court commissioner for a probable cause hearing. These hearings tend to be rubber-stamped, because the burden on the County (seeking to obtain an involuntary commitment) is so low. I have advocated for the subjects of these hearings, and have faced annoyance from judges and prosecutors because I actually cross-examine the doctors and law enforcement officers. This is not the norm; a typical probable cause hearing lasts about five minutes. Mine last 30 minutes or more, much to the exasperation of the courts.
Back to Jesus. Here is how I believe he would be assessed using the DSM-5:
Diagnostic Criteria (295.90 [F20.9])
Two (or more) of the following, each present “for a significant portion of time during a one-month period (or less if successfully treated). At least one of these must be (1), (2), or (3):
3. Disorganized speech
4. Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior
5. Negative symptoms (i.e., diminished emotional expression or avolition)
B. For a significant portion of the time since the onset of the disturbance, level of functioning in one or more major areas, such as work, interpersonal relations, or self-care, is markedly below the level achieved prior to the onset…
Some individuals with psychosis may lack insight or awareness of their disorder (i.e., anosognosia). This lack of ‘insight’ includes unawareness of symptoms of schizophrenia and may be present throughout the entire course of the illness. Unawareness of illness is typically a symptom of schizophrenia itself rather than a coping strategy…This symptom is the most common predictor of non-adherence to treatment, and it predicts higher relapse rates, increased number of involuntary treatments, poorer psycho-social functioning, aggression, and a poorer course of illness.”
To find that Jesus is schizophrenic, we need only find that two of the symptoms listed in the DSM-5 “cookbook” apply. Clearly, he has exhibited delusions: these are fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence (DSM-5, p. 87). Delusions are deemed bizarre if they are clearly implausible and not understandable to same-culture peers and do not derive from ordinary life experiences.
Hallucinations are perception-like experiences that occur without an external stimulus. They are viivd and clear, with the full force and impact of normal perceptions, and not under voluntary control. (DSM-5, p. 87-88).
Delusional disorder, grandiose type: “This subtype applies when the central theme of the delusion is the conviction of having some great (but unrecognized) talent or insight or having made some important discovery.”
Based on the foregoing, we would diagnose Jesus as follows:
Schizotypal (Personality) Disorder
The patient presents with delusions and hallucinations, with grandiose type applications.
The patient believes that he is a prophet, and is the son of God or the Son of Man. He has said that he was sent to earth by God to take on the sins of all people, and in doing so, to save all of mankind. Such thinking is clearly delusional, of the grandiose type.
Further, the patient has multiple hallucinations. He hears voices that others do not; he claims the voice is that of his father, God. The patient believes that he has the power to cure the incurable; to raise people from the dead; to change water into wine; and to walk on water. All of these perceived “powers” or experiences fall within the DSM’s definition of hallucinations, and are further evidence of the patient’s schizophrenia.
There are also issues with the fifth criterion, lack of self-care. Jesus is unemployed and homeless. The patient has, on numerous occasions, expressed his belief that the end of the world is near. For that reason, the patient does not believe he should seek employment, housing, or take reasonable measures for self-care. For this reason, as well as the mental illness findings set forth above the County believes the subject is properly a person in need of mental health commitment.
But wait: Jesus has done nothing to indicate that he is a danger to himself or others. Doesn’t the government have the burden of proving dangerousness before involuntary commitment can be ordered? According to the seminal Wisconsin case, Lessard v. Schmidt, the answer to that question is a clear “yes.” In recent years, however, we have moved away from that standard and toward a more paternalistic view that significantly lowers the bar for a finding of dangerousness. In Wisconsin, this is known as the “fifth standard.” It has withstood several constitutional challenges, despite the fact that it allows someone to be involuntarily committed with no showing of dangerousness. More on that in another blog post.
Of course, there was that incident in the temple. Jesus violently expelled merchants and money changers from the temple which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He reportedly used a whip on humans and animals alike, and forcibly overturned their tables. Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; and Luke 19:45-48. Clearly, this is someone who presents a danger to others.
The result? After the probable cause hearing, a final hearing will be held. The examining doctor will present the evidence above to show that Jesus has a mental illness and is dangerous to himself or others. He will recommend inpatient treatment (i.e., incarceration in a lock-down psych ward), as well as involuntary medication (meaning, if the patient refuses to take the medication, he will be placed in a four-point restraint and forcibly injected by a team wearing helmets, body shields and gloves). The judge will find in favor of the County, and will check the boxes on two pre-printed forms: mentally ill, check; dangerous, check. Involuntary medication (with no specific medication listed), check. We are not talking about incarceration for a few days. The statute allows the judge to order inpatient lock-down for up to six months. Then, typically, the County will petition for re-commitment for 12 months. For many people, the recommitment starts an infinite cycle from which there is no escape.
As Timon said in the Lion King, is everyone OK with this??? It is our position that they should not be.
Please, we can and must do better than this.
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Yes this happened to me. I was ordered to a hospital for 5 weeks and to take injections for over 12 months because Jesus spoke “I love you” to me daily… furthermore, the treating doctors relied and supported each others findings and wrote lies about me being aggressive, when I only use words without profanity?
So a lawyer won a case for me to stop the injections.
Allison, I’m very sorry to hear that this happened to you, but I’m glad you fought for your freedom and won. If you’d be willing to share the name of your attorney, I’d appreciate it. We need to train more lawyers about the science applicable to these cases; too often, involuntary commitment proceedings are a perfunctory rubber stamp. One project I’m working on is putting together a series of training videos for attorneys. I want to provide information to them not only on details of mental health law and litigation, but also on the science: e.g., why the “broken brain” theory has no basis in science; why a DSM diagnosis is meaningless; how many psychotropic medications actually cause the very symptoms they are intended to remedy. Lawyers need to be informed about these issues if they are to cross-examine medical experts effectively.