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The invisible enemy: spirituality and mental health

Many Zambians are battling with a range of mental health challenges resulting from a complex interplay between biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors. Until recently, spirituality, atleast by western mental experts, was never linked to mental health.

This is because spirituality is a concept that evades simplistic definition, categorisation or measurement despite it having an impact on people’s lives.

However, in the last 10 years or so, researchers across a range of disciplines have started to explore and acknowledge the positive contribution spirituality can make to mental health.

Dr. Richard Gallagher, a U.S-based academic psychiatrist, stated that some mental health patients need deliverance from demons and not medical help.

I know when a patient needs psychiatric help, and when a patient needs deliverance from demonic possession, because not all mental health issues arise due to psychological or physiological factors,

Gallagher said.

And in an interview with Lusaka Star, Chainama Hills Hospital Public Relations Officer (PRO) Dr. George Tafuna said mental health issues can either be caused by psychological issues or infirmities, which can be spiritual in nature.

By infirmities, that means these are unknown factors. Unknown factors can be categorised as Spiritual factors. But in Medicine, the spiritual aspect of it has not been proved, given that it is not tangible or visible to the human eye,

Dr Tafuna said.

He admitted that Chainama hospital struggles to treat mental health patients suffering from unknown causes.

Meanwhile, Father Peter Banda, a Catholic priest at Chelstone Parish, said that despite spiritual forces being real and having an impact on mental health, many people still find it hard to believe that this is the case.

It is not easy to convince people about the spiritual world. People want to see it to believe it. If they don’t see proof of demonic activities, then they will not believe. However, those that prefer psychiatric treatment can still get help, it’s all up to them,

Fr Banda said.

And Gibson Nyirenda, a pastor at God is Bible Church in Lusaka, said supernatural forces are the real cause of mental health issues.

To put it plainly, demonic activities cause people to think and act in strange ways against their own will. That’s why it is important for people to always pray for the days that we live in are evil,

Nyirenda said.

It is true demons are real, but mental health issues are very much curable especially through deliverance, constant prayer, spiritual and word counseling.


Mental health challenges are a serious issue as the prevalence of mental disorders in the country is approximately at 20 percent. Hence, concerted efforts from government, the church, families and communities are needed in order to arrest this dire situation.

However, despite some expressions of spirituality such as hope, forgiveness and purpose being fronted as helpful to mental health, a cautious approach should be taken on the role that spirituality can play in promoting and maintaining good mental health.

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