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Faith and Mental Health

Religious Resources for Healing

Faith and Mental Health by Harold G Koenig
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Dr. Harold Koenig is the brand in the growing field of spirituality and health. His groundbreaking research has been featured on national and international television and radio shows, on the covers of magazines, and in the headlines of newspapers.

Now he opens a window on mental health, providing an unprecedented source of practical information about the relationship between religion mental health. Dr. Koenig examines how Christianity and other world religions deliver mental health services today, and he makes recommendations, based on research, expertise, and experience, for new programs to meet local needs.

Meticulously researched and documented, Faith and Mental Health includes:

•Research on the relationship between religion and positive emotions, psychiatric illnesses, and severe and persistent mental disorders
•Ways in which religion has influenced mental health historically, and how now and in the future it can be involved with mental health
•A comprehensive description and categorization of Christian and non-Christian faith-based organizations that provide mental health resources
•Resources for religious professionals and faith communities on how to design effective programs

Presenting a combination of the history and current research of mental health and religion along with a thorough examination of faith-based organizations operating in the field, this book is a one-of-a-kind resource for the health care community; its valuable research and insights will benefit medical and religious professionals, and anyone concerned with the future of mental health care.

Templeton Press; August 2009
356 pages; ISBN 9781599470788
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Faith and Mental Health
Author: Harold G Koenig
Both individuals and entire religious communities have long been involved in caring for the emotionally or mentally ill. These efforts have often been truly heroic, although at other times they have been less than so. The following five accounts illustrate such contributions at different times and in different places. The first three-quarters of John Cuidad’s life were not very remarkable. Not until he was forced to confront mental pain himself was his heart transformed over the plight of those similarly affected. John was born to devout religious parents in Monternor-o-novo, Portugal, in 1495 during the early Renaissance period.1 At the age of nine, he left his family home and followed a Spanish priest to Oropeza, Spain, where he was placed in the care of a local shepherd. There he learned discipline, commitment to hard work, and a deep faith in God. As he grew into manhood, the shepherd encouraged him to marry his daughter, an idea that was not to John’s liking. To escape this fate, he enrolled in the army of Charles V and traveled to Austria to fight the invading Turks. When he returned to his home in Portugal, he discovered that his mother had died. Greatly saddened by this news, he went into seclusion. After getting his life back together, John took a job as a shepherd in Seville and later took up a similar occupation in Gibraltar, working his way towards the coast. There he planned to catch a ship to Africa to help free Christians living under Moorish domination. He eventually succeeded in getting to Africa by winning the support of a Portuguese family. However, he was soon expelled and returned to Gibraltar. There he went about as an itinerant book peddler selling religious books and pictures, often giving them away for free. Around this time he had a vision of the infant Jesus whom he heard call him “John of God.” Soon he was led back to the Spanish city of Granada, drawn by the teachings of a man called John of Avila who was preaching there. John was so inspired by this man’s teachings that he gave away all of his earthly belongings and went through the streets “beating his chest and calling on God for mercy.” He was diagnosed with an acute psychological breakdown and hospitalized in the psychiatric wing of Granada’s Royal Hospital in 1538. He was forty-three years old at the time. On discharge from the hospital, John was released to the streets where he remained homeless and disillusioned. One of his friends allowed him to find shelter from the bitter winter cold under the porch of his house. These experiences deeply affected John, sensitizing him to the suffering of the poor, the homeless, and those marginalized from society. Soon he began to invite the sick, the weak, and the mentally ill to share with him the small porch of his friend’s house. He worked alone in his care of the sick, begging by night for necessary medical supplies from local merchants and caring for the needs of his sick guests during the daytime. As word got out about his selfless, charitable ministry to the weak and needy, however, he began to receive help from local priests and physicians. Rumors about him spread rapidly. John developed a reputation for giving his overcoat to needy beggars on the street. Learning about these kind acts, the Bishop of Tuy had a special tunic and cloak made for him (the garb later adopted by his followers), and officially gave him the name John of God. Over the next few years, a hospital emerged out of the small house porch in Granada and was to become one of the first psychiatric facilities in that area of the world. In 1550, after twelve years of devotion to his patients, John of God died at the age of fifty-five from an illness that—according to legend—resulted from an attempt to save a young man from drowning. Soon, a movement of compassion for the sick, poor, and mentally ill spread across Spain. During the last days of John’s life, the leaders and nobility of Grana Historical Considerations da came to express their gratitude for his services to the needy of the town. After his death, John of God was buried with the pomp and ceremony reserved for princes. Pope Alexander VIII canonized him in 1690, and several centuries later, Pope Leo XIII designated him the patron saint of hospitals, psychiatric nurses, and hospital workers. Two religious orders emerged from the group of employees, volunteers, and benefactors that helped John in his work at the Granada hospital. An order of brothers, called “The Hospitaller Order of St. John of God,” formed the nucleus of a wider group of followers that today number around 35,000. The Brothers have come to staff over 250 hospitals in 48 countries around the globe, caring every day for thousands of poor, homeless, mentally ill, and emotionally distraught persons. Years later, an order of sisters of St. John of God was also started. It began in Ireland in 1871, in response to widespread hunger and famine at that time.3 Thomas Furlong, the bishop of Ferns, helped institute this order of nursing sisters whose purpose was to meet the needs of the poor, sick, and mentally ill of the region, thus carrying on the tradition of St. John of God. From the care and welcome that John gave the poor in the city of Granada nearly 500 years ago, some say, came the word hospitality. Huddling together with his cold, hungry, and sick companions during the early days of his ministry, little did he know that someday his life would inspire a movement that would reach around the world. The following prayer by John of God is often used to summarize his mission: May Jesus Christ give me the grace to run a hospital where the abandoned poor and those who suffer mental illness may have refuge, so that I may be able to serve them as I wish. John’s story is in some ways the story of every person of faith—Christian or non-Christian—who feels compassion for those who suffer with emotional problems or mental illness. Such a person is moved to do something to make a difference. Indeed, there is much that can be done by those both inside and outside of religious organizations.
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