a global health issue

Mental health is not just a major public health issue - it's quite possibly the most important global health issue of our time. The numbers are staggering. As many as 1 in 2 Americans lives with a mental health condition at some point in their lives, and one in three of the 65.1 million Americans getting disability payments from the federal government is suffering from a serious and persistent mental illness. 59% of Americans suffering from a mental health condition cannot afford to pay for treatment. 

This situation is the result of a nightmare of catastrophic proportions. America is a broken society that fosters more mental illness than any culture in the history of modern mankind. From the music industry, to the film industry, to the food industry, greed and selfishness have corrupted our institutions and left us hypnotized, brainwashed and sedated.

The American school system, designed to create broken workers who will conform to social pressures and not ask too many questions, is leaving people with permanent emotional scars. Our workplaces have become hotbeds of exploitation and intolerance, making bullies out of some and terrified, traumatized wage slaves out of others. And as massive numbers of people get laid off, experience financial crisis, or graduate into a dead market, tent cities pop up along busy freeways and shelters fill to overflowing. 

Such situations have created hardened citizens who communicate mostly in sarcasm and underhanded insults. Society is disintegrating as people grow more cynical, pessimistic and hopeless. Waitresses who expect to be slinging platters indefinitely trade withering insults about their customers, while doctors working back-to-back overnight shifts bond by complaining about the drunks who keep coming in and vomiting on the emergency room floor.

The victims of their contempt are always the poor, the sick, the crazy, broken or damaged... the most unfortunate among us, who have messy baggage that's difficult for all. The cruelty even extends to the ugly and disabled, who are discriminated against in the interview room, the workplace, and the relationship market.

So it's not surprising that many mystics - people who are sensitive, thoughtful and creative - have developed mental health conditions. Mental illness often develops when a person is marginalized or stigmatized, or begins to understand on a gut level that people can be cruel and life unfair. When you're trapped in a world you can't change, or have seen too much suffering and injustice, the natural result of the psyche is to fracture and play tricks on itself in an attempt to help you manage your pain.

If you are a fat person who was routinely rejected and bullied in school, for example,  you may develop an obsession with a teacher that helps you forget at times about your situation. This obsession may deteriorate into a feeling that you are psychically connected to that teacher and can communicate with them from a distance. Doctors call this schizophrenia. I call it a clever survival technique.

Grey Priestess Abbey is particularly devoted to supporting the soul growth of people with mental health conditions. Our founder, Helen O'Neil, suffered from a host of psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, autism, and major depression, before coming to a place of healing and self-acceptance. While she still lives with symptoms today, she has chosen to take no psychiatric medication and receives only a 30-minute psychotherapy session once a week because of insurance issues. Instead, she copes with her illnesses using several strategies, including:

  • working with herbs, waters, and tinctures
  • maintaining a vegetarian diet
  • writing, filmmaking, teaching, and entrepreneurship
  • a close relationship with her mother and one or two trusted friends, whom she had to reach out to repeatedly after falling out of contact for months or years
  • surrounding herself with art and literature
  • daily walking workouts
  • and a vibrant spiritual practice which includes study, bathing, meditation, breathwork, essential oils, witchcraft, crystals and candles

Grey Priestess Abbey believes in a shamanic, multidisciplinary approach to mental health that uses all the tools at our disposal. Our methods are strongly grounded in Arny Mindell's concepts of process work, Carolyn Grace Elliott's work on Existential Kink, and theories of depth psychology that are firmly rooted in metaphysics. We view the modern recovery-oriented model as harmful and prefer an approach that honors the sanctity of altered and extreme states like psychosis, depression and anxiety.

We believe that most altered and extreme states contain important messages for our healing and the healing of our communities. As a result, we see altered and extreme states as precious and important experiences in and of themselves. We reject the notion that recovery is the highest priority, or even that recovery is a reasonable goal.

Psychotropic medication can be an important tool in the processing of altered and extreme states. Furthermore, those whose mental health conditions are rooted in neurobiological causes will often not respond to process work or depth psychology. Such people need to be treated using neurochemical and body-oriented approaches. While Helen is lucky in that her conditions were relatively mild and she has received treatment from talented clinicians who were able to help her challenge much of her conditioning, many in our community are suffering from symptoms that are too severe to manage without prescription medication. We don't see this as a barrier to the intense spiritual growth work that we do.

Contact us using our contact form if you want to know more about our approach to altered and extreme states, or are curious about getting involved with the Abbey. We are not licensed to give medical advice, but we're happy to share our experiences and what we've learned with you. Our goal is to help people get in touch with their inner wisdom and create a more satisfying life for themselves.