Mental Illness in the Torah
Some characters from tales in the bible have been seen interpreted as having been mentally ill, which I find interesting. I will review a few of these stories, since maybe not for everyone but personally I am always interested at how mental illness was shown, interpreted, treated, etc in times before it was understood that it was more psychological than the invasion of evil spirits and the such. Therefore this will be more of an informational post than an advice or opinionated one.
King Saul, the first king of Israel, has a lot of evidence in his behavior that points to him having bipolar disorder. During his depressive episodes “David took the lyre and played it in his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better and the evil spirit would depart from him” (1 Samuel 16:23). The sound of the lyre soothed him, as music may for some people tend to serve as a welcome distraction for the flood of utter negativity and despair that occurs during any particularly strong episode. (Disclaimer that I’m exclusively unipolar in my depression so I do not know if depressive episodes in bipolar are the same as those in major depressive disorder.) There are also times where it seemed he was having a manic episode. He ended up coming across a group of prophets in the forest, and “fell into a prophetic frenzy along with them.” It was rumored for a while whether Saul was among the prophets as well. This happened again when he was chasing David towards Naioth, and “the spirit of God came upon him… he too fell into a frenzy before Samuel” (Samuel 19:23-24). These two written occurrences of mania were noted to be out of character for Saul. Later in his life after this he is consistently paranoid until he ends up committing suicide “following defeat by the Philistines.” This cycle of the “evil spirit,” when he was sad and withdrawn, and the “spirit of God,” where he joined the prophets in frenzy when he had sudden energy and intensity in his plans.
This is, unfortunately and admittedly, the only well-documented sign I can find of a biblical character openly expressing traits of mental illness, surely there are plenty of people who “go out alone at night, sleep in the graveyard and lose their clothing.” (Though this really only covers the criteria of a shoteh as possibly stated before and not, like above, any very clear signs of a distinct mental illness, so that is perhaps why there is not much writing about other specific occurrences.)
One interesting thing I found is that there is a word apart from shoteh to describe some with mental states that vary from the neurotypical norm, which is peti. Unlike the shoteh, the peti is still obligated, though as quoted are “simple and have a childlike level of understanding” (x). And so such is understood to be when one functions in the world but does not have an understanding that matches their physical age, or may be confused about what age they are despite having a job and other responsibilities that may match being an adult. It generally matches anyone who does not know how to answer when asked how old they are, it seems. This is in particular interest that it is a known phenomenon old enough to have a specific word for it, and so even in Judaism, age-sliders and those younger than the body have a specific word for themselves.
As usual this went off topic but I hope you enjoyed learning all of this as much as I did!