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Bipolar Disorder and Religious Cults

Seek The Truth Blog

Bipolar Disorder and Religious Cults:

Many former members of religious cults have discussed what they claim to be a very large number of cult members suffering from mental illness or disorder. Though mental illness has many factors, some of which are hereditary, it would seem that the relationship between the effects of a destructive cult and mental illness is worth examining.

This is not an opinion limited to former members. For the past several years, medical researchers have examined the link between oppressive or fundamentalist religion and mental illness. In 2013, for example, Neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor claimed that religious fundamentalism could be treated as a mental illness.

While Taylor's medical opinion might seem extreme, especially to those with fundamentalist leanings, aspects of her study have been recognized by other researchers. The most interesting research with regards to the cult mindset is the research linking "religious delusions" to bipolar disorder. According to Marcia Purse, the connection was specifically linked to "false beliefs" which are "firmly held" -- which is exactly how many former cult members describe the cult mentality of the group they left behind.


Delusions are defined as "false beliefs firmly held," and types include paranoid or persecutory delusions, delusions of reference, delusions of grandeur, delusional jealousy and others. Two of these, in particular, may express themselves in a religious context. Here are examples: Religious paranoid delusions: "Demons are watching me, following me, waiting to punish me if I do anything they don't like," or "If I put on my shoes, God will set them on fire to punish me, so I have to go barefoot all the time." Auditory hallucinations, such as, "The voices keep telling me there are devils in my room," are often combined with religious paranoia.
- Marcia Purse. May 01, 2018. Religious Factors in Bipolar Disorder

Purse goes on to explain the transition from "delusions" to "delusions of grandeur". For religious cults that have progressed in their destructive nature to a "us" versus "them" mentality, the delusions of grandeur cause the cult victim to believe they are exalted above others who are not of the same mindset:

Religious delusions of grandeur: "God has exalted me above you, normal people. He tells me I don't need help, don't need medicine. I'm going to heaven and all of you are going to go to hell," or "I am Christ reborn."

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