Depression. Anxiety. Bipolar Disorder. Schizophrenia. These are serious mental conditions needing proven treatment plans. If individuals can get treatment in this country, many find they are able to overcome or effectively manage their mental illness. Yet, a new study by LifeWay Research (which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention—you’ll understand this bit later) states that one-third of Americans, and almost half of evangelical Christians, believe serious mental illnesses can be cured with some Bible study and a heavy dose of prayer.
Well, that explains why mental health is so hard to come by in this country. There’s no need for medication. Or cognitive behavioral therapy. Or interventions. Or anything that has been developed in the field of psychiatry in the last 50 years, scientifically evaluated, and proven effective. Nope. None of those are needed. Prayer will cure it!
As a person who can directly attribute much of her anxiety and the panic attacks she experienced in early childhood to her family’s participation in the Baptist church, I would tend to disagree. There’s nothing like growing up feeling the Apocalypse is nigh to make an anxiety-prone child have panic attacks. And then, I think about what I learned in abnormal psychology class way back in college: the fact that many individuals who suffer from schizophrenia come to a point where their delusions lead them to think they are either the re-embodiment of Christ, or pregnant with the Messiah. Granted, these two anecdotes are not scientific proof that church is bad for people with mental illness, but it does give a glimpse into how religious ideology can be wrapped into mental health issues in negative ways.
Now, to be fair, the American Association of Christian Counselors came out with a statement about the poll, and tried to take the middle-of-the-road approach. Tim Clinton, who is the president of the AACC, stated that prayer and Bible study should be part of a treatment plan that includes counseling and medication. Yet, he went on to say that spirituality can play an integral role in curing mental illness, calling it “soul care.”
I’m sorry, I’m of the opinion that church can provide you with a sense of community and some moral reasoning, if you find the right church, but that’s about it. If your church embraces you, despite your mental health concerns, stands by you in times of trouble, and supports you and your loved ones as you seek legitimate, proven mental healthcare, then I’m all for it. But don’t try to tell me that Jesus is going to heal mental illness.
I remember reading the Bible as a child. My favorite book was the Book of Ruth, because she took charge and got things done when things needed to get done. I also read Ben Franklin, who stated that “God helps those who help themselves.” Let’s leave the idea that all we need is prayer back in the Dark Ages and use what God has truly given us—advancements in mental healthcare, brought to us by our cerebral cortex and our abilities to use logic and reason.