God and mental illness

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.”

praying dogI’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.

Advertisements

9 Comments

  1. Jace said,

    March 24, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Great post with some interesting things to think about. I am about to post an autobiographical story at http://www.everyminute.org about a seminary student’s struggle with schizophrenia. It should be up in the next couple days under Resources – Stigma – Personal stories. It may be of interest to you and your readers! Thanks again.

  2. Prester John said,

    March 24, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    I’ve had bad luck with religious people. It seems to me that when the chips are down, they’re the first ones to pass judgment. Once, when I was trying to rediscover my fundamentalist roots to recover from addiction, I began to get profoundly depressed. I told a strong Christian who was a family member and also trying to act as mentor. He looked at me as if I’d utter a string of expletives. I don’t remember the exact exchange but it was something to the affect of “how can you be depressed when you believe in Jesus and know you have eternal life?” I didn’t have an answer for him.
    I’ve written a good bit about what I believe at my blog and won’t rehash it here. Bottom line, it’s relatively easy for me to believe when things are going good. (In some sort of Higher Power.) When the bottom falls out I tend to talk like an atheist but actually believe God is afflicting me for some reason. It’s pretty horrible.
    Interesting post. I’m glad you take comfort in your faith. I’ve read enough to know that one’s chances of being happier, healthier, and more productive increase with faith. It’s not a choice though, at least not in my experience, any more than is being intelligent or good-looking.

  3. Gianna said,

    March 24, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    “When the bottom falls out I tend to talk like an atheist but actually believe God is afflicting me for some reason. It’s pretty horrible.”
    that sounds like me…also when I’m suicidal and bereft and feel like there is no one or nothing I don’t commit suicide because I think I will be damned. I fear being damned to hell while at the same time I don’t believe in God. I’m all over the place in the God realm. Lately I’ve been feeling like there is a guiding force in my life but I don’t know what it is. I feel like you do…it’s not a choice. But Christians say different. I’ve been a Christian and it felt like it came upon me then too, it didn’t feel like a choice.
    My spirituality left me completely when I was on heavy doses of drugs—the higher parts of my being were completely numbed out…now that I have less drug in my body I feel spiritual again, but I have no idea where the “spirit” is taking me…

  4. Nancie said,

    March 24, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    It’s sad that many Christians still view depression as solely due to sin, spiritual weaknesses or lack of faith in God. Thank God that that is furtherest from the truth. Depression and bipolar are medical conditions that can be treated. And I am glad you found consolations in God and He has sustained you through such difficult times. I thank God for sustaining me too and strengthening my faith and trust in Him through severe depressions episodes. When no one understands or sympathize with me, and even I myself are confused over what happened, God has been my refuge and strength. May He continue to strengthen you with His love and presence daily. Take care!

  5. Rick said,

    March 24, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Great thoughts, Marissa. Amazing how the people who are commanded to stay with us are the first to drop us when they find out we have something ‘wrong’ with us.

  6. March 25, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    “I’ve had bad luck with religious people. It seems to me that when the chips are down, they’re the first ones to pass judgment. Once, when I was trying to rediscover my fundamentalist roots to recover from addiction, I began to get profoundly depressed. I told a strong Christian who was a family member and also trying to act as mentor. He looked at me as if I’d utter a string of expletives. I don’t remember the exact exchange but it was something to the affect of “how can you be depressed when you believe in Jesus and know you have eternal life?” I didn’t have an answer for him.”
    ——
    John, the same has happened to me and I’m a Christian. For me, however, I felt as though these people aren’t God and despite the fact that they believe in Him, they aren’t HIM. I just went to my Bible and tried to get comfort from a few verses about what He said about those who were down and broken-hearted. Scripture didn’t heal anything but it was nice to know that God kinda understood where I was coming from.
    ——-
    “When the bottom falls out I tend to talk like an atheist but actually believe God is afflicting me for some reason. It’s pretty horrible.”
    ——
    I suppose I could get theological about the “God afflicting me” thing. I used to think the same thing too. This won’t change your mind but I can tell you from my experience that it’s not true. Afflictions are a part of this fallen, sinful world. It sucks and I used to think God would punish me because He was angry with me but I’ve since learned He’s not. There’s more of a theological explanation to that but I think that’s as surface as I can get.
    ———
    “that sounds like me…also when I’m suicidal and bereft and feel like there is no one or nothing I don’t commit suicide because I think I will be damned. I fear being damned to hell while at the same time I don’t believe in God. I’m all over the place in the God realm. Lately I’ve been feeling like there is a guiding force in my life but I don’t know what it is.”
    ———
    Gianna, I’ve been there. Before I became born again, that was my belief as a Catholic. A belief in an eternal Hell was enough to keep me alive! (Most of the time, anyway.)

  7. Prester John said,

    March 25, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks Marissa. You give Christians a good name. By the way, the comments are mixed up above. My comment is being attributed to “Jace”. I don’t mind but he sure might ;^/

  8. Lorraine said,

    April 13, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Hi there,
    What a great post, about a subject that very few people ever touch on. I remember working with a client whose pastor – after she told him of her struggles following the most distressing loss – told her
    “Well, you’re a big strong girl. I’m sure you’ll be fine…”
    before walking away.
    I kind of wanted to work with that pastor actually – to let him know that he needn’t be scared (because clearly he was) of spending time, speaking with and supporting someone who is depressed or struggling with mental illness. They’re still human.
    Whereas his blasé attitude sadly made him somewhat less human…
    Take good care of yourself all, for life is still beautiful.
    Lorraine

  9. Taxandria said,

    February 16, 2013 at 7:26 am

    I believe that religion can definitely exacerbate mental illness, especially OCD. It creates a supernatural world that you then have to contend with and it gives you all these new rules (many of which you can’t possibly adhere to) beyond your struggle to work with the rules you already have. How can you be depressed when you know you have eternal life? Because of chemicals being unbalanced in your brain. The brain is organic material, and it is not perfect (if it were it would never die and we would never have disease etc.) I look at people with frontal lobe injuries who used to be happy and “normal” people but have turned into aggressive, hostile, angry people with completely different personalities. How on earth can we say this was God’s will to actually change a person’s whole personality and make them aggressive and dangerous to themselves and others? Or to not remember their families? It’s so obviously damage to the brain that causes it. Messing with the brain itself can make people think differently, become “different people” as it were, since your brain is really who you are. Chemicals change you. To be told that this stuff is happening because of demons and unseen forces is adding insult to injury. People are suffering enough, and the religious world just wants to run away from it instead of facing it. If God is so great then why are all his followers so terrified of mental illness? Why are they so impatient with folks who are hurting? It isn’t even Christlike so I don’t understand how they even call themselves Christians.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: