Religion and Coping in Mental Health Care

By Joseph Pieper; Marinus Van Uden | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

MENTAL HEALTH AND RELIGION
A COMPLEX RELATIONSHIP

1. Mental health
In the last section of his principal work Als ziende de Onzienlijke ('As seeing Him who is invisible') (1974), the Dutch psychologist of culture and religion Han Fortmann has dealt elaborately with the relationship between religion and mental health. He begins by stating that mental health is not easily definable on a scientific level. In defining mental health, we have to realise its cultural relativity. What is strange and out of line in one culture may be an altogether normal way of behaviour in another. Therefore Fortmann points out that we must consider the function the behaviour has for the person, rather than the outward appearance. 'The hallucinations and the visions that Indians in California evoke in themselves through psychedelics and fasting, differ from the visions of psychotic patients in the function they have for the individual' (Fortmann 1974, 306). One and the same behaviour is an expression of a cultural habit in one case and an expression of a splintered personality in another. Moreover, in a certain culture ideological (political, philosophical and theological) presuppositions influence the concepts of what is mentally sane and what is not. Hence, many definitions of mental health have only relative or limited value. However, a number of definitions try to avoid these limitations by using a wide, open and/or relatively abstract formulation. In this manner Paloutzian (1983) defines mental health in terms of:
– the absence of excessive feelings of guilt;
– a realistic estimation and acceptance of one's shortcomings;
– experiencing not too much or too little tension in one's life;
– the ability to deal with problems;
– leading a satisfactory social life;
– having a sufficient amount of feelings of happiness.

Fortmann himself offers the following formulation:

“The ability (freedom!) to realise oneself (e.g. in work) and to lose oneself… The term 'freedom' is not sufficient in itself. One should

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