Would you tell a diabetic person to stop taking insulin, to do spellwork or meditate instead and completely stop using medicine?
Mental health issues touch the lives of people from every religion, and throughout history mental illness has been shamed. For years witches and pagans were persecuted under the same ultra-religious western philosophies that demonized queer and mentally ill people. Now that metaphysicians can practice in the open, an uncomfortable dynamic has been exposed — one of witches, lightworkers and occultists policing who is deemed healthy enough to practice magic.
“It both saddens and angers me to hear about covens actively excluding people who are in psychotherapy, who take anti-depressants, or who have particular diagnoses, under the blanket assumption that everyone who struggles with mental health is unfit for coven work or somehow otherwise not a fully-functioning human being,” pagan author Thorn Mooney wrote in a blog posted titled “The stigma of mental illness in Pagan and metaphysical communities”.
We’ve all likely encountered the rhetoric of pillphobia Thorn addresses. It can be found on social media or in line at the natural foods store, or when talking about mental illness with people who don’t have it.
These conversations are often framed in genuine concern but can perpetuate ableist ideology that isn’t based in fact. These conversations may contain phrases like:
“You shouldn’t need to be dependent on pills to have healthy thoughts, you should just meditate and cut out toxins.”
“Nature is my medicine; I don’t support drug companies.”
“I don’t use any psychoactive drugs; they’re spiritually impure.”
Some of the above hypothetical statements contain valid concerns, but they also contain pillphobic ableism.
While there are several valid criticisms of the pharmaceutical industry, shaming the patients who use their products is never the answer. These are individuals who are paying for medicine they need — in some cases in order to live — making them victims of a predatory system.
Cutting out or reducing the intake of toxic substances is clearly a good idea, but the assumption that all manufactured substances are toxic and all natural things are better for you is absurd. In the industrialized West, even the “natural” things we buy have most likely been processed, which can be a cause for concern considering most consumers — including those against processed foods — don’t have a damn clue what the processing entails. Still, to make general assumptions about psychoactive pills being bad is something that can’t be defended.
Some mental health patients on psychoactive drugs do aim to eventually slowly come off of them. Others need constant access to medicine to make their life enjoyable, or at least bearable — there is no one way to heal.
Meditating and spending more time in nature are excellent ways to calm our minds and heal our souls, but they are not substitutes for medicine and psychological care. The use of allopathic and Western medicines and the use of alternative therapy and holistic medicine are not mutually exclusive, so while some may get all the therapy they need from a walk in the woods, others may need care as serious as involuntary admission into a hospital for suicide prevention.
Mental illness is an issue that affects people of all different spiritual backgrounds. It affects people at different levels of severity and at different times. Two people with the same illness can experience it entirely differently. Two people with the same illness and the same side effects could take the same medicine and react in entirely different ways. There simply is no one way to address mental illness, and shaming someone for how they treat it will never be the answer.
It is vital to have conversations about universal health care and predatory drug and insurance companies. Spending time in nature is important and meditating is a beautiful practice for mental and spiritual growth. Using spellwork and prayer to address physical and mental health concerns are valid, authentic and pure ways to heal.
So do these things and celebrate them, just don’t shame those who take pills for mental illness.