Thanks to Gianna for sending me a link to an ABC News article about the relationship between religious faith and depression. The article analyzes whether faith can help or exacerbate a mental illness. The exacerbation, as referred to in the article, mostly comes from the stigma of mental illness within the religious community.
“You might be shocked to find out there are some denominations that do harm to people,” said Patricia Murphy, chaplain and assistant professor of psychiatry at Rush University. “Some congregations teach that depression is a sin … that’s the reaction they get when they turn to their pastor.”
Being punished by your religious leader for an unavoidable disorder sounds bad enough — yet it’s often compounded with tacit warnings against leaving the condemning sect.
“Studies have shown that faith leaders are least supportive [with mental health problems],” said Gregg-Schroeder. “There’s this attitude that if you pray harder, you’ll be able to pull yourself out of it. I’ve gone to funerals of people who were told to just pray to Jesus and stop taking your meds.”
I’ve been told that I suffer from depression because I didn’t pray enough or I wasn’t “right with God.” When I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after my high school graduation, I found my pastor and church noticeably absent even though they were aware of the situation. When I was depressed, I’d get verses like Proverbs 15:13, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Great. That’s helpful. Especially when I don’t have a “merry heart.”
When I was forced to leave a fundie conservative Christian college midyear because of my depression, my pastor at the time was clearly disappointed with my decision not to return the following year. I decided that attending a college close to home as a commuter student would be better for my mental health. There was no need to scare more roommates with my occasional mixed episodes. I felt like I’d failed my pastor, my church, and my God. God more so than anyone else. I convinced myself that He must be upset with me – disappointed in me. It’s not easy to recover from depression when you feel like the One who dangles your life from His fingers is pretty pissed at you.
(Image from AP via Yahoo! News)
Some people call religion a crutch. I call it a way to survive.
But my faith has helped me. I discuss a little bit about this in my Who I Am post on Religion and lot more in Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness. There have been so many times – so many times – when I should have died that I felt as though God had saved me. I cannot wrap my head around the concept of coincidence. For me, things in my life feel too planned out, too designed for events to just “happen.” I often don’t see these kind of things when I’m going through them but in retrospect, I observe events falling together logically like pieces in puzzle. Some people call religion a crutch. I call it a way to survive.
Crutches serve an important purpose: to allow healing. If my “crutch” paves the path for me to heal in more ways than just my depression, then I’ll be happy to have something to lean on for the rest of my life.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped a suicide attempt by the thought: “Jesus has you here for a purpose. Remember all the times you tried and failed? That’s not coincidence. You’re not dead yet because He has you
here for a reason.” The thought hasn’t always worked but it’s helped me more than I can count. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for my deep-rooted belief in God that I wouldn’t be here today. I don’t see God as a self-help tool. He’s not some genie that does what I say when I snap my fingers. I see him as more of a parent, a heavenly Father. When I request something, He can say yes but other times, He says no. And like many parents I know, if I ask why He said no, He can just say, “Because I said so” and not give me a full answer. (An example of this can be seen in the Book of Job.)
It’s somewhat ironic that I should be writing this post after Easter, or what I call Resurrection Sunday. It’s the time Christians band together to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from death. I don’t believe in a great prophet; I believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God who died on a cross and rose from the grave three days later to gain victory over my sins and allow me to have a relationship with God the Father. That pretty much sums up my entire belief in one sentence. It is this belief that keeps me alive whether some agree with it or not. I appreciate ABC News taking the lead and tackling various aspects of mental health issues from the effectiveness of religion to bipolar in the workplace.