This might be a more controversial blog post, but it’s something I really want to say and feel NEEDS to be said. So, here goes…
This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. I love this month as it’s a time that’s meant to shed light on mental illness, but I feel that part of talking about mental illness should also include talking about the BARRIERS that prevent people from receiving the services that could be so beneficial to them. One of the biggest barriers I feel contributes to people not reaching out to receive the help they need is religion.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up always attending super conservative private Christian schools. There was a lot of good to it, but also a lot of bad. Quite honestly, it was such a toxic environment at times. I so greatly appreciate that my parents had the financial means and the desire for me to receive a private school education (and spend my years rocking the polo shirts and skorts), because I know not everyone had that opportunity. However, it was not an experience that was full of sunshine and rainbows.
I felt like I was having to meet an unattainable standard of perfection. Many of the people around me were very judgmental and had a holier-than-thou attitude. If you weren’t going on a mission trip over the summer, you were looked down on. If you weren’t signing up to speak at chapel, you were looked down on. If you weren’t cracking open your Bible first thing in the morning, you were looked down on. The list goes on and on. It made me feel very inadequate. NOW, I want to say that not all Christians are like this. Many are really great, but many are also not-so-great. Just like with any other religion, there are some bad eggs.
One of the things that REALLY pisses me off about Christianity is this belief many people have that struggling with your mental health is the result of not trusting God. If you are anxious, it’s because you are not trusting God and should pray to Him to bring you peace. If you are depressed, it’s because you are trying to find your joy in worldly things rather than Him. IT IS SO FRUSTRATING!!! Why is it that for a PHYSICAL HEALTH condition, people receive sympathy. People pray for you and tell you how brave/strong/inspiring you are. Yet, for a MENTAL HEALTH condition, you just need to trust God more/you aren’t a good enough Christian.
I feel like religion, and Christianity especially, creates such a HUGE barrier to people receiving the help they need. I know for me, many a time when I was growing up and was anxious (whether over something logical or illogical), I was made to feel like my feelings weren’t valid and was told that the solution was “just pray about it.”
Yes, God can bring you peace during anxiety, but do you know what else can bring you peace? MEDICATION!!! SEEING A TRAINED THERAPIST!!! There is absolutely NO SHAME in seeking help for your mental health that doesn’t involve religion having to be at the center of it. Do what is best for YOU.
If you are someone who feels that the solution to mental illness is to “just pray” or “get in The Word,” then that is perfectly fine. If that is what works for you, then DO IT. BUT, do NOT shame someone else for choosing to use medication and/or seek help from a therapist, regardless of what their religious beliefs are. If you have thought about getting on medication, DO IT. If you have thought about seeking help from a licensed therapist, DO IT. Do whatever is best for YOU and will meet YOUR personal needs.
If religion has made you feel ashamed for your mental health diagnosis(es), I am so very sorry. I know the feeling all too well, but I also know how freeing it is to say “screw it” and take control of my mental health, regardless of what others have made me think. It was a journey to get here, but I can truly say that starting therapy over a year ago and sticking with it has been one of the BEST things I have ever done for myself. It can get better; you just have to decide what is best for YOU, and YOU are the only one who really can decide what that best-fit is.
Sending light & love your way! – J
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