Religion is the backbone of many people’s lives and sets the moral tone for their decisions. Faith can act as an anchor keeping you steady during the rough storms and provides a shoulder to lean on even if no one is around. The harsh reality is that some members of our faith communities see mental illness as a lapse of faith or a weakness brought on by sin.
The religions themselves typically do not stigmatize mental illness, but all too often we see culture dominating the mindset of the community in place of the actual religious teaching. Instead of the mercy and helpful hand that practically all major religions would encourage in these situations, some practitioners may tell them to “pray more and stop sinning” as if their mental illness is a simple faucet they can just shut off.
This contributes to the feeling of isolation by the community — people can feel they are not being heard or they are being punished for sins as if their mental illness is their fault. The individual may begin to believe they are a disappointment in their faith and they deserve to feel depressed. This does not help them; it escalates the problem and feeds into darkness.
Let us be real for a moment, every religious person on this planet sins at some point or another. We are human and no matter what religion we follow, it is inevitable that we will make mistakes sometimes and need to seek forgiveness for those mistakes. If we believe that mental illness is a result of sin then we must condemn all of human kind to be struggling with mental illness.
Benefits of Faith with Mental Illness
Thankfully, not every religious practitioner falls prey to this stigma. One’s faith can be a powerful coping skill and effective tool for recovery. I speak from personal experience that when I was at my lowest and truly broken down, it was faith that raised me up. As I fell to my knees intensely sobbing and submitting myself fully to my faith, it was at this moment that I truly broke free from the shackles of my PTSD and my overwhelming pain.
I was one of the lucky ones that was met with kindness and supporting hands from those within my faith. I sought refuge within my faith and was able to fall upon it. I can only imagine how low I would have sunk if I was met with intolerance and harshness due to misguided ideas surrounding mental illness.
Education is Key
The answer to breaking down this stigma within our faith communities lies in education. We must strive to provide accurate information on mental illness to those around us as well as provide accurate religious education to show the masses that religion does not condemn mental illness nor does it play the blame game. More often than not all of the world’s major religions seek to show mercy and kindness during these difficult moments. It is usually societal mindsets that warp those religious teachings and turn an opportunity for empathy into a hurtful encounter. Mental health providers, patients and religious scholars need their voices heard in order to educate people on the truth.