Former Christians Discuss how Evangelicalism Made Their Struggles with Mental Illness Worse

Recently on Reddit there was a discussion by former Evangelical Christians who are now atheist or agnostic on the issue of mental illness. They discussed the challenges and problems of dealing with mental illness and the barriers they ran into. Some wrote about getting help for issues later in life. The Friendly Atheist blog also picked up on the thread and wrote about it. 

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”

Margaret Thatcher 

“Mental health is often missing from public health debates even though it’s critical to wellbeing.”

Diane Abbott

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5: 25-26 ESV 

The Enola Gay at the National Air and Space Museum Extension in Dulles, Virginia. 

On my birthday in 1996 someone I loved and cared about had a mental health crisis. A loved one flew out to take care of this person and assist in the situation. This person would be eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia in the minor form. On my birthday instead of a “Happy Birthday” phone call I received a message from someone experiencing  psychosis who believed everyone was out to get them and that they were being monitored.  I cried in my dorm room and couldn’t believe this happened. Another message that was left frightened my college roommate and I had to explain the situation. What made it difficult is that I had a warped view of mental illness. Previously I recall when I listened to Rush Limbaugh him saying that people who were mentally ill wanted to check out of society. They claimed mental illness because they are lazy and it was easier then face the realities of life. That is what I accepted and believed until I was faced with a personal mental health crisis of a loved one. It shattered everything I knew about mental illness. It led to a long struggle. It also led for me to go down to St. Louis, Missouri while at Marquette and try and figure out how to move forward in time. Mental health issues are challenging and difficult. I once thought of mental health issues as kind of like the cold or the flu. You can take medicine for it and in time things will improve. That was not the case. In knowing a loved one who dealt with schizophrenia at one point in their life it took about twenty years for them to heal and overocme the disease. When I lived in Milwaukee I got involved in some meetings of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and listened to other families that dealt with schizophrenia, depression, schizo-affective disorder, bi-polar, and so many other diseases of the brain. I learned so much about mental illness that when I was involved in Mark Batterson’s National Community Church here in Washington, D.C. I spent a lot of time working with the homeless. I fed, ate with and got to know them in my time in National Community Church. I recognized mental illness and could spot it having experienced it closely in my own life. 

But it begs questions…what if that loved one I knew was involved in a place like Harvest Bible Chapel, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Acts 29, or a John MacArthur type of church. What would happen in a setting where mental illness is proclaimed as the result of sin. That people are to study the Bible and that it is sinful to seek psychological or psychiatric help. What would happen if medicine is discouraged and people are told that the ability to overcome their illness reveals their faith? What if they follow a Biblical Counseling program such as Christian Counseling and Education Foundation? 

Quite simply I believe the loved one I know would be dead. 

A while back on the blog SGM Survivors I recall reading some discussion on people inside Sovereign Grace who dealt with mental illness and how some people could not get the help they needed and committed suicide. I wish I could find that today for this post. Recently there was a blog post at The Friendly Atheist that led to this post. 


Evangelical Christians and Mental Illness

On Reddit in late January there was a thread that grabbed a lot of attention. It is in the atheist/ex-Christian segment of Reddit.It is a compilation of stores by former evangelical Christians who talked about how fundamentalism harmed their health or prevented them from getting the mental help that they needed. It was story after story of people being told to pray more. How they needed to have more faith. Or they never got the help they needed until later in life or after they left fundamentalism. Its an eye opening read and one that I recommend you read. The Friendly Atheist wrote about it as well, and you can read that here

If you deal with depression, bi-polar, or so many other diseases there is nothing to be ashamed of at all. Mental illness is a disease of the brain, and it often deals with chemical imbalances. If you have any such situation then I would encourage you to go get help. Invest in yourself and make your life better. It can take time and the doctors may have to find the right dose of medicine to make it work, but its worth it. It will help you with your family, loved ones and work. So if you are in a fundamentalist place reach out for help and taking medicine for schizophrenia is not sinful. There is nothing wrong with getting help from a secular psychologist or psychiatrist.  It doesn’t show a lack of faith. Instead it shows your commitment to your health and taking care of you is one of the most important things you can do. 

3 thoughts on “Former Christians Discuss how Evangelicalism Made Their Struggles with Mental Illness Worse

  1. Once I went to my woman’s group at my church. I admitted I was a broken down drunk. I drank every day after work until I passed out. Hi had unmanageable panic attacks, and sober my heart would race every day at 128-138 a minute. When I was drunk I never had to take the pulse, cause I was drunk. I was told that there was a woman in another group that is a recovering alcoholic. They asked if they could give them my email and #. She called me, and agreed to meet me at a local Panera. That’s when she spoke about God, and the program, and one on one therapy for $300 a session. I told her I live check to check, and had a 7th-8th grader. She said if we don’t put a price on it, God won’t heal me. It’s actually when I left the church and the women’s group. So I stayed drunk 4-5 more years, and in December 2009, God said no more. And took the want away. My detox and withdrawal for about 14 days was pretty bad. My skin was itchy! I was a wreck, but God brought me through it. This December will be 10 years COLD TURKEY. Not only has God opened my eyes and took away the want. He finally was able to let me know that it was okay to be an alcoholic. I know if I ever have another drink I will die. But He gives me the strength to stay sober for Him. It’s about my relationship with HIM that helps me through my mental health. And I have been put through so many tests. Words I might have said to cause issues, are prayed and given to God. Instead of dwelling on my issues, I stop them in their tracks. God, I know I can’t do it without You. I don’t want to have hate or animosity in my heart and cause even more panic attacks. I know You and only You will lift this current burder away, so I can do what I was made to do. worship You. I think we as addicts and depression sufferers think we can be cured. We can’t. Only healed along the path. Jesus is our first aid kit, not a magic pill.


    • Oh, your story is a reality check and a very sad one. At one of the church’s I attend, a former woman alcoholic started a ministry to help others that the church supported, and it expanded to drug addicts as well. She would visit the mental health patients and those who were “in house” drug addicts getting help. She would also visit those in DRUG COURT for moral support for those struggling, as well as those who were doing well. She helped so many people throughout the years, as she was a recovering alcoholic herself, so she could relate to others. Unfortunately, she passed away a few years ago, but I was fortunate enough to have met her. Needless to say, that church…you will see all sorts of people who are struggling with drugs and alcohol, tattoos, pink and purple hair, nose rings, and various piercings. And Jesus is introduced to them, in a loving, and kind way, and they are not scared off by lunatic self righteous Christians. Substance abuse Christians relapse, and instead of throwing guilt trips, just be there for them in their struggle, because that is what we are supposed to do anyway. No guilt trips. We are all a work in progress, and none of us will ever be perfect til we die. Not even the self righteous Christians.


  2. It was story after story of people being told to pray more. How they needed to have more faith.

    Unspoken: “Like MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”


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