Mental disorder

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A mental disorder (also mental illness or psychiatric disorder) is expressed by a pathological change in perception, thinking, feeling and willing and the resulting behaviour. Mental disorders are among the most widespread diseases worldwide. According to a WHO estimate, about 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression, 505 million from dementia and 20 million from schizophrenia.[1]

From Rudolf Steiner's point of view, the deeper causes of all illnesses, both physical and mental, lie in the incorrect interaction of the human being's members. Mental illnesses, in contrast to physical-functional illnesses, are based on the fact that the two lower members of the being have too much influence on the higher ones. More precisely, severe mental disorders always have an organic cause, which is to be sought above all in the lower human being, i.e. mainly in the metabolic area and least of all in the nervous system.

„You may believe me that the spiritual scientist is actually annoyed, if I may speak drastically, by the mere expression mental illness, because it is foolish to use the expression mental illness, because the spirit is always healthy and cannot actually become ill. It is nonsense to speak of mental illness. It is always a question of the spirit being disturbed in its ability to express itself by the physical organism, and never of an actual illness of the spiritual or mental life itself. These are only symptoms that occur.

But now you must sharpen your gaze for the concrete individual symptoms. And here it will be a question of your perhaps seeing the development of what one might call the first disposition and then the further development of, let us say, something like a religious insanity or what is similar to it - not true, the expressions are not all exact, because the method of designation in this field is an extraordinarily confused one, but we must nevertheless use the words. All these are, of course, only symptoms. But if we assume that something like this is developing, then it will be a question of being able to gain a picture of this whole course of development. But then, when we have gained this picture, it will be necessary to look closely at a person who shows this picture for any abnormalities in the lung-forming process, not in the breathing process, but in the lung-forming process, in the metabolism of the lungs. For even the expression brain disease is actually a not quite correct one. If the expression mental disease is quite wrong, the expression brain disease is actually half wrong, for that which occurs in the brain is actually always secondary. The primary thing in diseases never lies in what takes place in the upper human being, but always in the lower human being. The primary actually always lies in the organs to which the four organ systems belong, the liver, kidney, heart and lung systems. And it is more important than anything else in someone who is inclined to those forms of madness where the interest in outer life dies away and the person becomes brooding inwardly and pursues delusions, that one gets an idea of the nature of his lung process. This is extremely important.

In the same way, it is important that in people who display what one might call obstinacy, stubbornness, bossiness, in other words, everything that represents a certain immobility of the conceptual system, a rigid desire to stand still with the conceptual system, that one allows oneself to be led by this to see how things stand with the liver process of the person concerned. For in such a person it is always the inner organic chemistry that does not work properly. Even what we have been accustomed to call softening of the brain in trivial life are all secondary things. The primary thing, especially in the case of so-called mental illnesses, lies in the organ systems, even if it is sometimes more difficult to observe. And because it lies in the organ systems, that is why it is sometimes so dismal to see how it is precisely through spiritual treatment that these things are least helped, how it is actually much easier to achieve something through spiritual treatment in real organic illnesses than precisely in so-called mental illnesses. One will almost have to get into the habit of treating mental illnesses with remedies.“ (Lit.:GA 312, p. 256ff)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. Mental disorders - WHO fact sheet (28 November 2019), retrieved 7 November 2021