Bible Study plays role in mental breakdown

The Iowa State Daily/March 28, 1978

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series concerning ISU Bible Study. Today's story concerns one student's experiences with ISU Bible Study. Wednesday's story will present a look at the general structure of the organization.

An Iowa State student spent 18 days in the psychiatric ward of one Iowa hospital and recently finished a 23-day stay in another with emotional problems that his psychiatrist thinks may have been triggered by his involvement with ISU Bible Study.

We'll call him Rick. Rick's psychiatrist said (in an interview made possible when Rick signed a release) ISU Bible Study created a stress or conflict for Rick because he wanted both to be religious and to be with his family and girlfriend. Rick said he had been told by Bible Study friends to give up his family, girlfriend, and career plans, and that "God would provide."

Rick also said it was implied he should not confide in anyone but his Bible Study friends, and that to be a true Christian, one must experience God."

Rick was reared with the King James version of the Bible, and he said the Bible Study group claims the only true word of God is the American Standard Bible.

These and other conflicts are what led to an emotional breakdown and a hospital stay in January. Rick was diagnosed as a manic-depressive, was treated, and spent several weeks with his family at home.

While he was at home, Rick and his parents invited Daily writers to their home to tell them how Rick had become involved in ISU Bible Study and what his involvement did to him.

During the interview, Rick also told about a trip he made to Colorado with Bible Study friends which he and his father now consider "an indoctrination course."

About two weeks after the interview, Rick was admitted to another hospital because of a relapse. He has since been released and his father is optimistic about Rick's progress.

Rick is a sophomore in Farm Operations with an above average grade point, according to his parents. He said he hopes to take over his family farm after college. He was also active in residence house activities prior to his breakdown.

Rick had been attending ISU Bible Study meetings and activities at the urging of his roommate since the beginning of this school year.

At the time, his parents considered Mike, his roommate of three quarters, a "good Christian man" and encouraged Rick to go to the meetings to see what they were like.

At first, Rick said he liked the ISU Bible Study activities and meetings. He said he especially liked Wednesday nights when small groups would gather at a private home, eat a meal and talk. He said he also attended Friday night meetings at MacKay Hall regularly.

After some time, Rick's parents began noticing some changes in their son. When he returned home at Christmas-time, he had some trouble sleeping.

However, Rick left Dec. 26 for a Colorado ski trip with Bible Study friends and returned Jan. 2, tired but happy, according to his parents.

It wasn't until the weekend of Jan. 22, when Rick awoke screaming, "I am the Lord," that his parents knew something was wrong.

Rick said he remembers thinking that night his family pet, a large yellow house cat, was the devil and he had to kill it. As he recounted this hallucination, the cat cuddled up against his leg.

"I thought I had to kill this," he said as he stroked the cat.

He admitted himself to the psychiatric ward of the local hospital that week.

The psychiatrist who treated Rick at the first hospital said while Rick has the hereditary predisposition to emotional problems, something usually triggers such reactions.

"The Bible study group was possibly a precipitating factor because they got Rick all mixed up."

Rick said his problem started because of the pressure he received from Bible Study friends.

"I was getting religion shoved down my throat and I tried to swallow it ... but I couldn't."

The psychiatrist had diagnosed Rick as manic-depressive. For a manic-depressive, emotional highs are higher and lows are lower than for the normal person, he said.

"When someone is manic, everything seems rosy; they talk all the time; and they have flights of ideas. When they are low, they can get suicidal," he said.

Rick was diagnosed in the second hospital as hypo-manic, a sub-category of manic-depressive. Rick's first doctor said the discrepancy in diagnosis is because when he treated Rick, Rick was at his peak. The difference is a matter of a degree, according to the psychiatrist.

HE ALSO SAID to say Rick was "brainwashed" would be an exaggeration. "The Bible Study group may have been the straw which broke the camel's back, but it wasn't the only cause," he said.

"People like this go sometimes until they're 30 years old before they show these things...but sooner or later they do show up."

Some of the things Rick said he was told to do came from his roommate and three other men in the house.

All of the men regularly attend ISU Bible Study meetings and activities. Mike, his roommate, tape records the Friday night lectures, and he recorded the lectures at the Colorado retreat. The tapes are then sold or loaned out by the group.

RICK SAID BOTH Mike and another of the men in the house have given up their girlfriends because of their religious convictions. Mike, Rick's roommate, and the other man, who we'll call Mark, were reached for comment about their involvement with Rick's story.

Mike said that he didn't recall ever telling Rick he should give up his family or his girlfriend. "I don't know of any pressure like that being put upon him ... my personal opinion is that such pressure was not put upon him," Mark said.

Mark added that he thought Rick had some emotional problems for quite some time. "I spent a lot of time with him just before it happened, and I know he was having problems with his girlfriend."

Mark said he thinks it could have been possible it was mentioned to Rick that he should break up with his girlfriend because of problems. "But the attitude of ISU Bible Study isn't pressure. It's care and concern for everyone."

Mike said he wasn't aware Rick and his girlfriend were having any problems. Rick's father also said he had not been aware of any problems between Rick and his girlfriend.

"If they were having problems, I don't think she would have written to him almost every day, as she did while he was in the hospital," he said.

RICK'S PROBLEM came as a surprise, according to Mike. "We had roomed together for almost a year, and the last time I saw him, he was fine ... then something happened."

Mike said he thought something had happened when Rick and his girlfriend went out-of-state for an athletic event. "I saw him Friday before they left and he was fine. That was the last time I saw him. Then he called Saturday night from his home to let me know he was back...he just wanted me to know he was all right."

Mike continued, saying Rick called him that Monday and seemed "different." "His mind was racing and he wasn't cohesive at all."

That was the day Rick admitted himself to the hospital.

Mike noted that, as far as he knows, Rick attended Friday night meetings, and one Wednesday night gathering before the Colorado trip. "I don't remember him going to noon studies either, but I could be wrong," he said.

About 400 people attend Friday night meetings.

"In a sense, Rick wasn't really as involved with ISU Bible Study as some others," he said.

MIKE ALSO SAID he wouldn't say he's sacrificing anything for ISU Bible Study. He and Mark both said they didn't actually give up girlfriends.

"The girl I think Rick was talking about is someone I haven't dated since I was a senior in high school," Mike said.

Mike said he didn't really give his girlfriend up for Bible Study. "We separated and went on to bigger and better things, but not in the way Rick perceived it."

Rick went with Mike and other Bible Study friends on what he thought was a ski trip in Colorado during Christmas break. However, after the trip, he concluded the trip was more than that. Of the five days actually in Colorado (two days were spent in transit), the group ended up skiing two days.

"The other days were spent with teaching and lectures from elders of other areas," Rick said. On these days, Rick said the group was awakened at about 7 a.m. and went to bed about midnight. He said most of the rest of the day was spent in lecture.

"They had 8 to 10 hours of preaching ... they were trying to wear us down." The point made by many of these lectures was "you've got to give everything up for the Lord, and he'll find you a career ... and I knew that couldn't be right."

According to Mike, the time used for teaching in Colorado was four hours per day, including morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. "I didn't think the schedule was that rigorous."

RICK AND MIKE both said about 700 people attended the gathering. Single men and women slept in sleeping bags in separate gymnasiums, and married couples had rooms.

The Ames group was transported by car, plane, and buses, according to Mike. The school buses, not part of the assets listed for ISU Bible Study with its account at the Campus Organizations Office, Beardshear Hall, were apparently rented or otherwise obtained.

Neither Rick, Mike, nor Mark knew where the school buses came from. Jeff Newburn, ISU Bible Study president, said, "They came from another organization" but could not specify from where.

Rick's father said that at the time Rick asked to go on the trip, he and his wife had no hesitations. "But had I known it was going to be an indoctrination course, I would have asked him not to go," he said.

Rick's father added he has no desire to accuse anyone unfairly.

"This group's basic goal seems to be winning souls for Christ ... and no good Christian can argue with that." He said he thinks most people who attend Bible Study have good intentions, "but I think the leaders are off the beaten path."

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