What is unwell in a mentally ill person? In the case of someone who is mentally ill it is the body that actually is sick; the body is unable to use the soul and the spirit in the right way. In the case of someone of whom it is said that he is mentally ill, it is always the physical body that in reality is ill; when the brain is not able to function in the right way it is understood that the person concerned will not be able to think normally. In the same way the feelings of a person with a sick liver cannot function in the normal way.
And so to call someone “spiritually ill” (in German it is called Geisteskrank) is actually the most incorrect expression to use. Someone, of whom it is said that he is mentally ill, actually suffers from a bodily ailment. The body is so ill, that the spirit, which is never ill, cannot be utilised in the right way.
Above all, you must clearly understand that the spirit is always healthy. Only the body can get sick in such a way that it cannot take hold of the spirit in the right way. If someone has an ailing brain it is the same as when someone uses a hammer that keeps on breaking when he uses it. If I call someone who does not have a hammer lazy and tells him he is incapable to function as a woodworker, it goes without saying that I am talking nonsense. He might be able to function as a woodworker if he had a hammer at his disposal. In the same way it is utter nonsense to say that someone is mentally ill. The spirit is perfectly healthy, but his body, his tool, lets him down.
Translated by Nesta Carsten-Krüger
Source (German): Rudolf Steiner – GA 350 – VORTRÄGE FÜR DIE ARBEITER AM GOETHEANUMBAU (page 144-145) – Dornach, 28th June 1923