Show Notes - Episode 25
If you or someone you love is in need of sound, professional, secular counseling and therapy, don't hesitate to click the image above or use this link to visit their site: https://seculartherapy.org
Mental illness is often attributed to a number of things in evangelical circles:
1. Lack of faith – you don't believe you can get better so you aren't
2. Demon possession
3. Lack of positive confession – you're sick because you've decided to be sick. Confess that you feel well, that you are not depressed, etc. Law of Attraction.
4. You don't spend enough time in church – you know, around “normal” people
5. You haven't prayed hard enough about it
6. You have un-repented sin in your life
7. If you're sick at all, it's your fault. God doesn't want you to be sick.
Many churches deny the existence of mental illness and discourage psychotherapy
Many churches inadvertently harbor and feed mental illness
You simply cannot put a person who is already in a vulnerable state, already exhibiting signs of mental illness, in an environment where they're taught to believe that bad things happen because a girl ate an apple given to her by a talking snake and expect them to think rationally about their own lives or problems. Follow that up with equally ridiculous solutions to what could be life-threatening problems and you have a recipe for lifelong mental illness in a best case scenario.
The worst case scenarios often result in suicide, other self-destructive behaviors and even criminal and psychotic tendencies. If you don't believe me, just ask anyone who has ever bombed an abortion clinic, died as a result of handling snakes or drinking deadly poison, or killed someone during an exorcism. Ask parents who withhold crucial medical care from their children thinking – BELIEVING whole-heartedly that they can solve the problem with prayer. These may not be daily occurrences, but they have happened and things like these and worse happen all the time.
This religion that promises freedom in Christ enslaves people in every way there is. It begins with the mind and infiltrates every part of a person's life from there. Thinking the way they want keeps you in a place where help is difficult to seek or receive when it's presented. Will I have to repent if see a psychologist? Does it mean I don't trust god? We'll get into the Anxiety end of this more in a few.
Even people who find their way out of evangelical religion have trouble seeking the kind of help they need. This could be the result of other outside influences, too, like a spouse who is evangelical or has evangelical influences in his/her own life, but, for the most part, it's mental conditioning. When we are taught to think a certain way, it makes a physical impact on our brains, making it necessary to circumvent the thoughts rather than eradicate them. Our thoughts are physical things. They implant physically on the brain and once they're in, they're in. You can't erase them. All you can do is work around them. The good news is that working around them and creating new thought processes works with the right help.
*Talk about the Dark Man here
Churches tell people they can be healed of anything through various means of hocus pocus, like anointing with oil (Js. 5:14), laying on of hands (Luke 4:40), exorcism (Mt. 15:21-28), and more.
The girl possessed by a demon was probably bipolar or generally rebellious.
James 5:14, ESV: "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." ... You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord."
The worst part of this is how easy it is to hide in plain sight in most evangelical – partcularly pentecostal – churches with various manifestations of mental illness simply being looked at as normal due to the common behaviors seen in the church environment. Religious psychosis can easily masquerade as piety and even garner praise and admiration from other believers. The ego-stroking that occurs in those situations put up even bigger barriers to wellness because the person now feels accepted, important, and spiritually mature.
Mentally ill Christians are among the biggest deniers – because it's what they're taught to do. While it may not be intended, churches teach people to either sweep their problems under a rug or simply hand them over to Christ (which is basically the same thing). Since people want their beliefs to be true, they defer to the religion and keep doing things the way they're taught. This involves repeated pleas to their God to deliver them or flat out denial that the problem exists because confessing that you're ill is evidence of a lack of faith. They decry proven effective secular solutions, refuse to medicate or get counseling, and shoulder the weight of their illness as part of their responsibility to take up their cross daily. God is able, but, for some reason, isn't willing to help them. This tells them that there is a reason why they are the way they are and they refuse to insult their god by going their own way to get help. Either their religion can solve the problem, problem doesn't exist, or “Paul had his thorn in the side. This is mine.”
The symptoms get linked to the religion
Evangelical indoctrination often causes people to fuse their mental illness to their religion, resulting in particularly confrontational personalities and behaviors, excessive anger, and a total inability to think and act rationally. They become unable to engage in conversations on subjects wherein they disagree with other people who live outside the boundaries of their religion without being triggered. The religion becomes their hiding place and questioning its validity gets equated with you breaking into their house. They go into full-defense mode and angry, sometimes violent behaviors quickly manifest. There have been quite a few viral videos and news stories just in the past year that showcase displays of mental illness that appear to be rooted in the person's faith.
Common illnesses linked to evangelical religion:
Religious trauma syndrome (a form of PTSD)
Evangelical Persecution Disorder (a cluster B/C personality disorder)
The following are my own impressions of the information found in this document:
Depression – Depression often stems from a lack of purpose. Evangelical religion leads many to an endless and fruitless search for purpose. How does one find purpose in a religion that expects the individual to die to him or herself and embrace suffering as evidence of faith? Suicidal thoughts are huge part of depression and this kind of thinking only tips the scales in self-destructive directions. People look to their religion for security and descend deeper into their conditions and symptoms when the religion fails to deliver. Suicide is common in evangelical circles even with the threat of hell looming.
Anxiety – Anxiety is based largely on fear which is a key emotion that evangelical faith strives to elicit. You should be afraid of going to hell, backsliding, dying with unconfessed sin, etc. Even denominations that preach a “once saved, always saved” doctrine tend to encourage the individual to project anxious thoughts onto friends and loved ones who are not born again, driving the need to evangelize and disciple. Worry about their loved ones' fates to the point of panic can make a person descend deeper into anxious thoughts, especially when people they care about die “unsaved.” This is particularly damaging when it's a spouse, parent, or sibling.
Anxiety symptoms spurred on by evangelical religion include:
A loss of meaning in life – die to yourself
obsessional religious thoughts and actions – I ONLY have god to turn to. No one else can help me or even wants to help me. I MUST get through to my sister before the cancer takes her. She NEEDS to now Jesus and if she dies and goes to hell it's MY FAULT.
feelings of alienation and indifference – why bother even trying to change? I'm just a bad person and people don't like me.
loss of previous spiritual belief – I gave god every chance and he didn't help me. This either means I'm not worthy or he doesn't exist. Either way, what's the point?
no sense of the future – we aren't supposed to store up treasures on earth so why think past right now and the problems that exist right now? No future = no reason to live = suicidal thoughts, plans, and actions for some
fear of death – having no sense of worth makes it difficult to believe you're saved, as does being constantly called back to the altar to repeatedly admit your imperfections and “rededicate”
fear of the consequences of ‘sins’ or religiously-defined ‘bad’ behavior – hell dreams are common among evangelicals who suffer from anxiety
an inability to focus on ‘God’ or to meditate and pray – anxious thoughts can make it impossible to pray or focus on prayer as a solution, making the anxiety around prayer the thing that keeps people from praying. Then they go to church and are told in so many words that their problems exist because they don't pray, read the Bible, and meditate on “god's word” enough.
PTSD – People with PTSD are often encouraged to find spiritual solutions to their problems and are told that the key milestones and life goals of dealing with PTSD are addressed in religion and spirituality, these being connection, self-awareness, and a sense of purpose. The problem is that most connections made through religion are toxic and can actually create more instances of trauma. Evangelical faith abhors anything that affirms the self, and the only sense of purpose that is widely taught through evangelical doctrine involves rewards that can only be accessed after death. Now, instead of dealing with the trauma, many evangelicals simply let it tear them apart while they wait to die because what's on the other side is so much better (Rom. 8:18).
Schizophrenia – The disconnect between one's “old life” and their spiritual rebirth can cause schizophrenic symptoms, mostly because the structure of evangelical religion strips the individual of identity. They stop acknowledging their own thoughts and attribute everything they think to members of the Trinity or to demons. Their rational minds try to fight back. They struggle to insert themselves into their own thoughts and create separate “voices” to help form a sense of balance. Many then convince themselves or are convinced by others that the most rational parts of their minds are actually demons trying to lure them away from their beliefs. Remember: the most moral and honest character in the garden of eden was the serpent who represented maturity and sense of self and he's vilified as the thing responsible for humankind's fallibilities and shortcomings. When you're taught that your mind is the enemy, you fear reason. Reason is demonic. Let's exorcise the demons causing those thoughts.
In extreme cases, those demons are blamed for violent, criminal, or less severe but still self-destructive behavior that exists outside of the control of conscience. God is often believed to orchestrate these behaviors at times, too. “This is what god wants me to do.” Evangelicals often separate their lives and senses of selves into BC and AD kinds of terms, despising their own behaviors as unbelievers and striving to create a new, better, sin-free persona that jibes with what their faith teaches them. The problem is that the old self is still in there and also wants its say.
“In a recent survey, 45% of mental health professionals felt that religion could lead to mental ill health and 39% thought that religion could protect people from mental ill health. This uncertainty is in part due to the fact that historically, the association between the two has not always been regarded as a positive one. Freud called religion “the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity” In simplest terms, theist mental health professionals believe that religion can help. Agnostic and atheist professionals recognize that religion won't solve the problem but looking to other people for help can.
Some of them know... https://lifewayresearch.com/mentalillnessstudy/ - this is a THEIST publication
Few churches have plans to assist families affected by mental illness
Few churches are staffed with a counselor skilled in mental illness
There is a lack of training for leaders on how to recognize mental illness
There is a need for churches to communicate to congregations about local mental health resources
There is a stigma and culture of silence that leads to shame – people choose to live with mental illness because speaking out and asking for help are signs of a lack of faith
Signs that you have a mental illness:
(DISCLAIMER: I'm not trying to diagnose anyone and there is a real danger in armchair psychoanalysis but the common threads that link these things to mental illness and a need for help are many and should not be ignored)
- You don't like yourself and have self-deprecating or self-destructive thoughts regularly
- You never feel like you're thinking straight
- You have physical pain that can't be linked to any kind of physical activity, dietary, or lifestyle causes
- You regularly self-harm (cutting, nail biting, hair pulling, burning, etc.)
- Your moods swing drastically and without warning
- People are constantly asking you what's wrong and you don't know why
- You do know why but can't articulate it
- You have trouble functioning at home or at work and jump from relationship to relationship or job to job, always playing the “clean slate” game when the situation becomes unbearable
- You use drugs, alcohol, food, or sex to deal with your problems
- You are afraid of therapy
- You mentally punish yourself frequently for past mistakes
- You live with abuse because you've convinced yourself that you deserve it
- You aren't happy in any of your relationships, romantic or otherwise
- Your family and/or friends have abandoned you or avoid contact with you
- You behave in abusive ways toward your partner(s) to feel empowered
- You don't consider yourself to be a good person
- You don't think you're worthy of being loved
- You can't control your anger
- You have frequent stress meltdowns that you cannot control
- You think regularly about suicide as a solution to your problems
- You don't believe your life is ever going to get any better or that you will ever be in a place where you genuinely like yourself or feel happy about your life.
Some of these are reversible. For the rest, there are ways to deal with them constructively and start creating new, healthier thought patterns. It starts with admitting the issues exist and seeking competent professional help in dealing with them.
For those still in this thing, I want to make several points abundantly clear. You can't cure mental illness by touching someone, blowing on them, throwing a blanket on them or smearing olive oil on their heads. You can't cure mental illness with prayer. You can't exorcise mental illness, and you cannot cure it by telling a sick person to simply decide not to be sick anymore. You won't get there relying on spiritual platitudes, making positive confessions, and turning to church elders who approach your problems armed with nothing more than tender hands, sweet words, and drams of olive oil. You can't lay mental illness at the foot of the cross. You need to lay it out in front of a licensed counselor who can help sort through the details, figure out the reasons why you're sick, and help you strategize getting better.
If you even think you might be suffering from any of the the conditions mentioned in today's episode or relate to even just a few of the red flags I just listed, I strongly urge you to talk to your primary care physician about your problems and ask for a referral to a secular mental health practice that can help you. You can also access resources like the Secular Therapy Project (seculartherapy.org) and Psychology Today to learn more about mental health professionals in your area who can help you.
Most mental illnesses never go away, but there are better ways to manage them, live with them, and be reasonably happy and satisfied with your life than your church can offer. Your church leaders may mean well (and they usually do) but they can't help you. Wanting you to be well isn't enough. They have no idea how to really, effectively help you, regardless of their intentions.
The steps to getting well are not easy. You have to first admit that the problem exists. Seek competent help to effectively manage the root causes. Do NOT listen to any pastor or church member (or anyone else, for that matter, including YOURSELF) who tries to discourage you from getting help. I'll say it again: Your church cannot help you with this. They can perpetuate it, they can make it worse, and they can even put momentary band-aids on it and pronounce you “healed” with no follow-up plan or sense of ownership of your problems when you inevitably return to your previous headspace, but they can't help you. Real freedom from mental illness starts with a decision on your part to get competent, clinical, SECULAR help and I urge you to make that decision right now and act on it.
Stop letting your church and the people in it control your feelings, emotions, and overall mental health. At the end of the day, none of them have to live inside your head and they don't have the education or experience necessary to give you sound counsel or advice on ANYTHING. Take control of your mental health, admit that you need help, and take steps toward getting well. There are few more important areas in life than this when it comes to getting and staying unbound.