Would religion help my psychological issues?

From the mailbag:

Do you think your current psychological problems would be less severe or even non-existant if you could rely on a faith? (= + faith community?) Sorry if too provocative.

Honestly, no. I’ve dealt with these issues since I was little. It’s overlapped my naive atheism, my desperate attempt at deism, my agnosticism, and my well informed atheism. And you know at what point I was most miserable? When I was desperately trying to force myself to believe in a God that I knew didn’t exist.

Knowing that I was the only one who could make things better, not some mythical being? That was empowering. It’s not perfect and doesn’t replace counseling, but it certainly helped.

This is post 41 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.


  1. PDX_Greg says

    Interesting question, actually. ¬† But I see no evidence to suggest that religious people are more “well-adjusted” than those who are not. ¬†They seem to have the same psychological problems everyone else does. ¬† ¬†Add in that many of the real crazies think they are channeling God and are emboldened to action on that basis. ¬†No help there …

  2. Rbray18 says

    i agree,as someone with diagnosed clinical depression that¬†I’ve¬†dealt¬†with since at least age 11 that religion at least for me made it worse. see i use to be a¬†southern¬†baptist¬†christian till bout my early 20’s. when i say made it worse,well you know how some¬†religious¬†people say they feel a connection with “god” ? well i never did and it made me feel unwanted and like a bad human being because i wasn’t feeling “saved” like my friends do/did. once i fully became a¬†atheist¬†it helped,i no longer felt unwanted.

  3. Rob Crisafulli says

    My mother has suggested this to me as I have been dealing with depression for the last several years. She wasn’t trying to force it on me as a “cure”, she simply asked me if I thought my depression was a result of not believing in god anymore.

  4. says

    When I completed a years-long journey away from religion and finally embraced atheism, it definitely helped me with my psychological issues (primarily depression). There really is something empowering about acknowledging that there’s no omniscient deity who will help or hinder your plans– you can’t look to God to help you, nor can you use God as an excuse for when you fail, as so many religious people do (“well, it just wasn’t His plan”). ¬†When I finally accepted that my life was my own to live, and that I would succeed or fail based on my own decisions and my own determination, it was incredibly empowering, and I’ve made a huge amount of progress since then in working toward my long-term goals.

  5. says

    It’s not a given that christian faith will help you with mental health issues.¬† This is ultimately why I stopped being a christian – despite a supportive community, and an unshaken belief in God, I came to a realisation that daily having to ask forgiveness for staying in bed all day and cutting myself with razor blades, and begging the Holy Spirit to magically give me the grace and power to help me surmount my problems was not only pointless and ineffectual, but actively harmful and making me worse.¬† While still a believing Christian, I deliberately set aside practising my faith in order to concentrate on getting better (justifying it as my “forty nights in the wilderness”), and like a good Calvinist, believing that if God had a plan for my life like everyone told me he did, then he would bring me back in his time.I wouldn’t like to say that leaving christianity was the biggest factor in my recovery (as far as I have recovered), but it allowed other things to happen that were instrumental in that.

  6. Clara says

    I can see that it might help having a God to talk to when you’re depressed or anxious and having negative thoughts. Hell, I do that too. I’m just more honest about it. The person I’m talking to is myself.¬†So being religious? Nah. Being able to separate a little part of you off when you’re really low or really upset, to tell you you’re okay and it’ll pass? Fo shiz.

  7. G.Syme says

    ‘Cept that talking to God entails all these hangups and preconceptions about what you imagine God must think of you. And if you’re feeling depressed then I can strongly imagine it wouldn’t be positive. The ideas people build about God are too unwavering and (especially) judgemental to help them help themselves.”Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”

  8. LadyAtheist says

    I think the implicit admission in this e-mail that the community aspect of religion really is the most beneficial part.¬† Some of the fundies I know have the type of church where people turn up to help you out when someone is sick or dies or whatever.¬† They are so steeped in it they can’t imagine that people can have loving friends outside of that community.Of course, if you believe that someone is eavesdropping on your thoughts 24/7 and watching your every move, you’ll need the distraction of a sick friend.

  9. says

    I agree. While my religious activities add a lot to my life, it’s not faith in the sense people generally talk about that’s beneficial – largely because I don’t have any. What does help, and sometimes makes things worse as well, is something that a lot of people do get from religious activity (especially in places where religion is common)¬† – community. Religions aren’t the only source of community, though. Trying to integrate in a community that you fundamentally don’t agree with (like a religious group you don’t share the beliefs of) is likely to be counter-productive.

  10. says

    Religion is itself a psychological issue. In the vast majority of cases, its elimination would be positive. I don’t doubt it helps some, but it hurts most.

  11. TheDudeDiogenes says

    I tried going back to religion, after several years of considering myself an atheist during and after college and a brief stint in grad school, when depression and anxiety overwhelmed me. It only lasted seven months before I realized I couldn’t make myself believe something I found absurd. Anyway, seven months as a practicing Catholic certainly didn’t help my mental health issues.

  12. says

    The recovery from my mental break – when my depression/anxiety became so much I had to seek more than just my GP’s help – began when I accepted my atheism wholeheartedly. Meaning I admitted to myself there was not even an ounce of belief and to stop pretending there might be. It was not the greatest weight taken off my shoulders, but it was the first pebble off my back that started an avalanche of¬† discovery & healing. Still working on it (the depression & anxiety), but now I can at least breathe without restriction. Also I advocate for secularism in therapy. Too many times therapists call on the spiritual as a tool, or recommend church groups. The group of CFI I belong to encourages secular alternatives.

  13. alteredstory says

    Not sure where this falls on the “religion” spectrum, but I found the Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell translation) to be very helpful in coping with depression during a semester in Africa.¬†It doesn’t advocate praying, or worshipping anything – mostly just advice on how to live your life and look at the world, with a splash of mysticism. It seems like the kind of thing most people could come up with after a long life of conscious living and self-awareness, but as a college student, having it written out like that was nice.

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