What did Mary Baker Eddy say about mental health?
With increased focus on mental health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we wondered how Mary Baker Eddy dealt with challenges to her own, and others’, emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Here is some of what our research revealed.
The promise of healing and relief from suffering, including issues related to mental health, drew people to Christian Science from its beginnings. Eddy’s primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, includes “Fruitage,” a chapter composed of testimonials from the book’s readers. Under the heading “SAVED FROM INSANITY AND SUICIDE,” one of them—“E.J.B., Superior, Wis.”—explained, “A few years ago, while under a sense of darkness and despair caused by ill health and an unhappy home, Science and Health was loaned me with a request that I should read it.” The account goes on to explain the positive transformations that followed over several years.1
Christian Science, which Eddy discovered in 1866, offered a new theory of disease and spiritually-based therapeutics that she linked to the healings of Jesus Christ. She put her ideas into practice by treating people through prayer, including in cases of acute mental distress. For example, in an 1884 sermon in Boston, she told of this unusual meeting:
I had an interview, this last week with a gentleman, who had escaped from a mad-house, in 1868. He was a raving maniac, and they were in pursuit of him. He stopped at the place where I boarded, and the lady ran for me, and said:
“well nigh frightened to death; wont you come? Here is a maniac threatening our lives. My daughter has fled, and I am come for you.”
I went with her. He took a chair, and poised it, but I looked upward, and he dropped the chair, and asked if I had something to say to him. I said I had, all from the spiritual side. The first thing is you have no disease of the brain; you need never have been in the insane hospital. Then came the comfort and relief, and the poor maniac fell on his knees before me; he was cured. I saw him, last week, married, the father of children, a well man. He never was insane after that.2
Eddy’s student Clara Shannon remembered an experience that took place at a later date:
One day [in 1888 or 1889], when she had finished her lesson in the class of which I was a member, she asked me to wait after the other members had gone, and as she was standing in the classroom at 571 Columbus Avenue, a gentleman called to see her, bringing with him his sister, who greatly needed healing.
Mrs. Eddy met them at the door of the room and asked him to wait downstairs while she talked to his sister. The belief was insanity, and she looked terrified. Our Leader told me her delusion was that a serpent was coiled around her body and was crushing her. I stood in amazement, watching Mrs. Eddy’s face as she turned and looked at the woman who fell on the floor screaming, “It’s crushing me—it’s killing me!” Our Leader looked upwards, as if she had seen the face of an angel in her communion with God. In a moment she said to the woman, “Has it gone?” But there was no reply. Mrs. Eddy repeated her question, but the woman still seemed not to hear it. Then she spoke with authority and asked, “Has it gone?” The poor woman looked up, and her whole body was shaken and quivering as she answered, “Yes!” I watched the changes of expression that came over her face, from fear to peace and joy. And, oh, the love that was expressed in our Leader’s face as she looked down on her, stretched out both arms, and lifted her up, saying, “Get up, darling!” Then our dear teacher put that needy one’s head on her shoulder and patted her face as she lovingly talked the truth to her. Mrs. Eddy then went out of the room and talked to the brother, who took her home, and then she asked me to come and have supper with her and to sing to her. During the evening she turned to me and said, “You saw what happened to that lady today? Well! She will never be insane in this world again.” And she has not been.3
Eddy faced her own share of challenges over a long lifetime, and the Bible was a constant for her during periods of stress, fear, illness, and grief. Her “go-to” passages included Psalm 91, which begins, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” Many times she would open the Bible at random for guidance, sometimes noting the date and her need at the time in the margin.
One particularly difficult period followed the death of her third husband, Asa Gilbert Eddy, in 1882. As she often did when in need, Eddy reached out to her students and friends for help. According to biographer Robert Peel, shortly after Gilbert Eddy’s death,“Delia Manley was standing alone in the hallway when Mrs. Eddy came downstairs, put her head on Mrs. Manley’s shoulder, and wept. ‘I feel there is something in your heart,’ she confided, ‘that will understand what is in mine.’’’4
Eddy sometimes gave voice to her feelings through poetry, when her pen was her safety valve. A poignant example of this is related in an article on The Mary Baker Eddy Library’s website “How did Eddy approach times of isolation?”
In addition to her own authorship, Eddy encouraged her followers to write for the magazines she started. Throughout the decades, The Christian Science Journal, the Christian Science Sentinel, and The Herald of Christian Science have all included accounts related to mental health.5 The newspaper she founded in 1908, The Christian Science Monitor, offers substantial reporting on these issues. Listen, for example, to this 2021 podcast episode.
- See Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 637–639. This testimony, by Eva J. Bray, was originally published in the May 1904 Christian Science Journal, pages 100-101.
- Mary Baker Eddy, “Sermon by Mrs. Eddy, Nov. 16, 1884. (1st Peter 3 12.),” 16 November 1884, A10088.
- Clara Shannon, “Golden Memories,” We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, Expanded Edition Volume II (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2013), 205–206.
- Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (Boston: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), 116.
- To access articles and testimonies from the publications of The Christian Science Publishing Society, go to jsh-online.com