According to the World Health Authority, an estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. With the push from mental health providers to disseminate information to the public, many people now know this as a 1 in 4 statistic. A further 15 million globally suffer from social anxiety. And in the UK alone, the 2015 Crime Survey for adult respondents revealed 9% of adults aged 16 to 59 had experienced psychological abuse, 7% physical abuse, 7% sexual assault and 8% witnessed domestic violence or abuse in the home. And as awful as these last statistics are, it is worthy of note that they undoubtedly reveal only a small proportion of the true figure.
The effects of all of the above, as those who live with them daily will attest, can be devastating. By their very nature, they breed isolation – mental health resources free for public access are incredibly limited and constantly underfunded, waiting lists for therapeutic services are long, and desperate medical staff are often forced to offer recourse to the only sources available – prescription drugs – even whilst knowing that these are at best, a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. Despite best efforts, an enormous social stigma remains towards those fighting as adults to regain an equilibrium in their mental health: community and social support is poor (if not non-existent) and the majority of people find themselves financially penalized (through loss of employment or lack of appropriate social funding whilst undergoing treatment) when seeking medical help.
Through courage and persistence however, many people do reach out for treatment. Failing suicidal tendencies, many months may pass before they receive any medical care but having jumped through all appropriate hoops of reporting, referrals and assessments, they may finally be recognised as eligible for treatment. At last, one assumes, some help will be at hand.
This article in no way attempts to denigrate the excellent and devoted medical professionals trying desperately to plug the gushing leak in the dam of rising mental health issues. The majority of them do the very best they can to support victims and sufferers. Yet the help and medical care, when eventually accessed, is not only limited, but generic. Where does that leave a very particular group of survivors and sufferers?
It is no secret amongst the Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses community that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find appropriate medical care and therapy for the very specific issues we face. When we do gain access to medical support, we are almost obliged to ‘break down’ the differing traumas and abuses we have suffered into separate categories, in order to enable the professionals treating us to assist us on a ‘piecemeal’ basis. Yet our experiences have not been ‘piecemeal’. The things that happened to us cannot be picked apart and separated into neat little categories for more palatable consumption by medical staff and counsellors who do not understand ‘the whole’. For almost all of us, the effects of one particular type of abuse continues for our entire lives. By cherry-picking only the traumas and abuses they fully understand, those trying to help us invalidate the full weight of our suffering. What is it that they need to really comprehend in order to see the entire picture?
- We are former members of a high-level control, thought reform doomsday cult that poses as a religious charity. Some of us were born and raised in it, some of us came to it as adults. All of us have battled to regain control of our independent thinking abilities upon exiting.
- We were indoctrinated to believe (by systematic mind control techniques, primarily fear) that the world would end imminently. At any moment. We lived for years, decades even, in fear of this.
- We were indoctrinated to believe that anyone, ANYONE, not a Jehovah’s Witness, (including all those we loved) would be executed by an invisible deity at this time. Until that moment, everyone save Jehovah’s Witnesses was controlled by the malevolent influence of the devil. Therefore, we could trust no-one.
- We were taught fatalism, worthlessness, social isolation and the relinquishing of our internal locus of control were vital for survival. These precepts were constantly reinforced by the use of shame, guilt and obligation.
- Total obedience and the repression of self-identity were a crucial part of cult teachings and encompassed our entire lives – from sexual identity, behaviour and preference, to general behaviour, dress and the use of our personal time and money. For children ‘born in’ this presents particular problems upon exit as adults.
- We were indoctrinated with a deep and inherent distrust of all secular authorities, including police and medical professionals.
- We lived daily with the knowledge (reinforced by practical application) that exit from the cult would result in extreme shunning and the ceasing of all contact with family, friends, community and social network. As an adult, this is a bitter concept to swallow. As a child, it is terrifying. The rules determining expulsion from the cult are many, varied and arbitrary.
- We were indoctrinated to believe that anyone voicing doubt or dissention about the cult was mentally diseased, filthy and abhorrent. When we first exited, at some level, we continued to believe this about ourselves.
- We were at worst forbidden, and at the very least strongly discouraged, from pursuing further education and any attempts to provide for ourselves financially in old-age. We continue to live with the repercussions of this.
- Some of us have suffered sexual abuse, some of us physical abuse, some of us both. ALL of us have endured extreme and relentless psychological and emotional abuse.
- For the majority of us, this last continues through the ‘cruel and unusual psychological torture’ (quote Angus Stewart PC for the Australian Royal Commission) of separation from our families and friends still trapped within the cult.
It is little wonder then that having conquered an uphill battle to gain medical treatment, the generic approach to clinical psychology by the medical profession and lack of understanding by society at large, serves to reinforce the concepts of worthlessness, shame, fear, guilt and isolation that Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses were so heavily indoctrinated with. Concepts that by their very nature create and drive depression and social anxiety.
There is a well-touted expression in clinical psychology when dealing with survivors of abuse and trauma – ‘You’re as sick as your secrets’. Until our ‘secrets’ are not only recognised, but understood, the only place of respite for Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses remains within our tiny online forums and fringe support groups – the only places where we can hope to meet others who truly comprehend the minefield of distress and skewed thought-patterns we battle to extricate ourselves from.
Statistics taken from: