I was nervous to interview my grandmother on my podcast, Mental Illness Matters Radio. Nerves were present not only because I want my grandmother to be proud of me, but because I knew the conversation would veer onto a topic I have grappled with for many years since my mental health diagnosis.
My grandmother is an admirable, dedicated Christian and knowledgeable in depth to boot. She is devout, charismatic in her faith, and an influential, thoughtful teacher.
I have wrestled with my faith in Christianity and religion as an institution, and have safely landed in a place of peace and resolve as a spiritual agnostic. I wondered despite our differing views if we could meet in the middle on our similar journeys of experiencing and battling mental illness, mainly depression.
In the interview, my grandmother spoke of a time she was faced with words from a trusted loved one which drove her into a closet of shame and guilt about her suffering. My heart cringed as she spoke them, but I knew all too well this is not an uncommon sentiment.
‘Betty, if you just had more faith and trust in Jesus. If you just pray harder and be a better Christian, you will be able to overcome this.’
It broke my heart to hear these words for her, especially because of the high esteem I hold her in for her undeniable faith and devotion.
Unfortunately, my grandmother is not the only one who experiences these ridiculous and misled statements in regards to treating mental illness. As an outspoken advocate and public speaker, I have come across this naivety way too often and it truly surprises and disgusts me for several reasons.
- Depriving a person from treatment because of your beliefs is dangerous.
Regardless of your tenets, individuals have a right to receive treatment and a right to work toward recovery. Having a mental illness breeds shame, embarrassment, and guilt anyway, so adding the pressure of religion on top of emotions stacked against you is a recipe for disaster.
If you believe someone shouldn’t receive medical treatment for mental illness because your religion teaches you mental illness doesn’t exist, I suggest you find a more accepting and loving religion. Mental illness isn’t the problem, your beliefs are.
A common symptom and in many cases action with mental illness is suicidal thoughts and ideation. This isn’t a form of weakness or defiance of religion, this is a symptom of having a disorder in the brain. If left untreated or ignored, an individual may feel no choice than to take their life. If they are being told they are feeling this way because they lack faith and trust in a higher power, they may sadly and reluctantly take their life because they cannot control their symptoms through faith. This is a horrible way to die, and it isn’t necessary because treatment is available and recovery is possible for anyone.
If you are someone who shames people into believing their mental illness is a result of lacking faith, you may be inadvertently causing their death. That may sound harsh, but it is the truth. Instead of promoting health, acceptance, and wellness, you are increasing the shame and guilt one already experiences with mental illness. This is dangerous and unacceptable behavior from a human being, and moreso from someone claiming to be religious.
- Your views on mental illness and treatment are archaic
Understandably, there have been many misconceptions about mental illness and how to treat sufferers. Only in the last several decades have we had major breakthroughs, shared lived experiences, and effective treatment choices/options in psychiatry. Prior, it was chocked up to bad luck, bad people, bad choices, or even demonic possession.
While I understand change can be hard for most humans, my message to the slow learners in the faith is to wake up already and learn the facts about successfully treating mental illness.
There are success stories for every mental illness. People have received treatment, recovered, and have normal, fulfilled lives with mental illness. These are facts. It baffles me in the face of concrete success and science, religious folks will still cry out about faith and devotion as actual options. This not only makes the religion you are following illegitimate, it makes you look foolish and ego-driven.
Changing beliefs about mental illness doesn’t mean you have to change your faith. It means you care about acceptance, love, and your fellow mankind.
Take the time to learn the facts about mental illness, treatment options, and success stories of individuals in recovery. Your influence may save a life.
- You are giving religion a bad reputation.
I believe I am correct in assuming the true nature and foundation of religion is to help others, promote peace, and practice acceptance and love. If you are blaming the victim of mental illness on their shortcomings, it seems logical to me that you are doing the opposite of what religion stands for.
Many of my fellow advocates use their faith and support in the church in their recovery and to stay well and balanced. This is how religion is used for the greater good of humanity. I highly respect individuals who are faith-based in managing their life, coping with symptoms, and aide others as peers. It can be a comforting and powerful tool while battling major mental illness.
Individuals and churches who believe the archaic view that mental illness doesn’t exist, medication is bad for mental illness, and having more faith and Jesus will cure you are doing a disservice to those who practice religion for the right reasons. Power, control, and guilt are horrible tools to use for motivation, healing, and love. You are not a martyr if you actually believe these lies, you are promoting suffering, intolerance, and hatred.
If you are not using religion as a way to support, love, and accept others, you are doing it wrong.
Religion has nothing to do with mental illness, however it can influence the outcome.
As a sufferer of scrupulosity in addition to my obsessive-compulsive disorder, I was misguided by delusional thoughts of how and why religion influenced me. This was not the doing of my family, my environment, or my beliefs. This was just one of the symptoms I developed. I believed for 12 years if I prayed harder, became a better Christian, and had more faith, God would reward me by taking my horrible, intrusive obsessions away.
These false beliefs drove me to attempt suicide with the belief God wanted me to because He was disappointed in who I had become as a result of the illness. Luckily I survived to find out I had a treatable illness with therapy and medication. Luckily I survived to find out my beliefs, my religion, and my faith had nothing to do with the development, symptoms, or outcome of my illness. I have a brain that malfunctions and needs treatment. That is all.
My grandmother and I ended the interview with her inspiring words of hope and motivation for anyone suffering with mental illness. She encouraged diagnosis, treatment, and faith that beliefs can provide strength, hope, and encouragement. Luckily she was able to find the strength within herself, her supporters, and her church along the way to find out the truth about mental illness and religion. One does not cause or influence the other, but they can work together for the greater good, if done correctly.
This blog is dedicated to my Grandmother Hodges who will be turning 90 this month. She is one of my mentors, heroes, and lifelong supporters. She is a great woman in her faith, conviction, and practice of caring and loving others. Her desire to become a scholar in her interests and passions is an inspiration and motivator for me. Thank you for all you have done for me and for so many others who have had the pleasure of crossing your path. All my love and respect, Chrissie
Thank you for taking the time to read,
Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare/Ft.Logan Institute; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’ Radio; CBT/ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Police and Sheriff Department