RELIGION AND MENTAL ILLNESS

Author’s Note: I haven’t been a Christian or a member of any organized religion in many years. If asked to define my religion now, I usually say I’m a nature spiritualist. I see Nature as Mother and Father of us all. I feel it’s only fair to divulge that before writing on this topic.

RELIGION AND MENTAL ILLNESS

Religion can be a source of comfort to many people. Congregations and faith leaders can be sources of support when we are troubled. Indeed, I think the social aspects of religion are one of the best things about it.

Sometimes, though, mental illness and religion don’t mix well. I’ve seen many clients over the years who are extremely religious. This happens enough that we have a term for it: religiosity. Often these folks have schizophrenia or a related disorder, such as schizoaffective disorder. Sometimes it’s not the clients, but the beliefs of the church or its leaders, that cause problems. Several times over the years, clients have told me that their clergyman/woman said they just need to pray more or that they don’t need their psychiatric medications, that God would take care of their problems. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with prayer. But I do think God, the Universe, or whatever you want to call it expects us to use our intellect, and that intellect has enabled humanity to develop medications to treat people with all sorts of illnesses, psychiatric and otherwise.

Some clergy members feel ill-equipped to assist congregation members who are having mental health issues. Some may even be afraid. I encourage all members of the clergy to become familiar with the mental health resources available in their communities and to take mental health first aid so they know how to help congregation members with mental illnesses. Clergy members can also ask mental health professionals, especially those who share the same faith, to speak with their congregations to provide information and dispel misconceptions about mental illness.

Charlotte Donlon’s experiences as a Christian woman with bipolar disorder may have been more positive if her pastor knew what to do when she asked for his help. Her story is here.

What have your experiences as a person with mental illness been like?

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