When I was a child, my father caught me with a bottle of Benadryl trying to kill myself. In fact, I attempted suicide several times as a child and teenager. Some people might judge me for those suicide attempts, assuming I was just a weak person who could not handle the big, scary world. But the truth was I had an untreated illness – depression – and just like all other illnesses depression is not something a person can simply get over. No, it needs to be treated by a trained medical professional. Unfortunately, my family did not exactly believe in mental health care, and so, nothing was done about the Benadryl incident.
My parents were extremely religious and they thought Jesus was the the answer to everything. Now, I am not faulting my parents for having religious beliefs; after all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The answer to my own mental health problem was, in their opinion, to “find Jesus” so he could heal my depression.
There is nothing wrong in using faith to help you through a difficult time, or even believing that some supernatural entity played a part in making you better. For many, faith is something to hold on to when everything else seems lost, and that faith may truly help depressed people find stable ground. Yet, that does not mean their faith negates the need for treatment. After all, even most religious people would go to the doctor if they had an infection. They do not believe their faith or their god(s) will keep their foot from falling off if it become gangrenous.
Why is it that people of faith so often discount mental health treatment? What makes mental illnesses vastly different from physical ones? Why can Jesus be a substitute for psychologists but not optometrists, oncologist, neurologists, or gynecologist? Why is it acceptable to seek professional medical help for strep throat or an impacted tooth but not for a mental illness like depression or schizophrenia?
Doctors (at least the ones who treat physical problems) are seen by the religious and non-religious alike. This is because, no matter how much faith a person might have in their god(s), deep down they know the deity they worship is not a medical professional. And although their faith might help them cope with their illness, they do not think refusing medical care is wise. It is time religious individuals and organizations take that same understanding to mental illness, because no matter how much you think Jesus loves you, he is not a mental health professional. And mental illness, like all other illnesses, must be treated by a professional.