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Religion can help or hinder the person suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts. On one hand, beliefs in what happens in the afterlife, how suicide is viewed (sin or not), and other beliefs, may stay someone’s hand. However, some religions, churches, or well-meaning individuals can cause even more damage by insinuating that one needs only to pray, rather than seek help from a doctor or needed medication.

Recently, I was speaking with someone close to me–who really felt this was helpful–and was told that my husband’s path down depression and addiction was rooted in our inability to pray enough. Jesus would have saved him. Doctors would not have…and this was clear, because obviously he was able to fall by suicide.

I really wish I had had the time and energy to explain how wrong this type of thinking is in our society. More than that, I wished that I could have explained that even if we had prayed and gone to church, he would have probably met the same end.

He needed help and he didn’t do well seeking it. He didn’t trust counselors, because of how the ones who he had been forced to see as a child abused his trust. He didn’t trust others, because of how he was treated growing up. I’m not going to air his dirty laundry, even after death, but he did not have the best of childhoods…and that’s putting it lightly.

It’s no wonder he battled the demons he did.

He did go to the doctor and he was prescribed antidepressants, but he would drink with them. And he would get scary. He seemed “better” off of them and so I didn’t nag him much on it. The alternative seemed worse.

What killed my husband?

Depression.

The stigma that comes from mental health and mental illness.

The demons that he fought through his teenage years and beyond that.

The inability to ask for help, because he trust no one.

The stigma has to stop. The fear of being judged has to go away. The “Christian” response of “pray and be saved” from whatever darkness needs to stop as well. If nothing else, advise them to pray and go see a doctor. Stopping people from seeking help will only harm them. There are too many stories out there of people dying from lack of care. I know you all care. I know you all want to say the right thing. But that is not the right thing.

Prayer only helps with professional help.

If you’re not judged for taking Tylenol for a headache or antibiotics for a stomach bug, then why would you be judged for taking antidepressants or anti-psychotics to balance your brain chemistry? Conversely, why would you judge someone for the same?

Mental illness is not a spiritual battle any more than the flu. Mental illness is a chemical imbalance that is as concrete as a virus. People with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and the like need help as much as someone with a broken leg. The difference is, even if someone prays for his or her recovery, no one is surprised that that person goes to a doctor to help set the broken leg. That is how we must view mental illness.

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