My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
The internet hasn’t so much changed people’s relationship to news as altered their self-awareness in the act of reading it. Before, we were isolated recipients of the news; now, we are self-consciously members of groups reacting to news in shared ways. Marvellously, this facilitates solidarity for the truly oppressed, for campaigners, for those with minority interests. But it also means that the paranoid, the suspicious, the xenophobic and the conspiracy-minded know they’re not alone. They’re conscious of themselves as a collective, as an audience, weeping, cheering, heckling and screaming from the safety of the darkness over the stalls, occasionally pulling on a mask to jump onto the stage and pull down the trousers of the performers or to start a false panic that the theatre is on fire.BACK TO TOP