Trigger warning: I go into a bit of backstory regarding how my super religious homeschooled upbringing changed how my mental health as a teenager was/wasn’t treated. Some of this content could be triggering.
In the deep South, you go to church every Sunday, say “y’all”, and always properly address your elders. You drink sweet tea and sit out on the front porch all night while you swat “skeeters” away.
You do not, however, suffer from depression or anxiety. You’re just “spiritually troubled.”
That’s the harmful ideology I grew up with, an ideology that my mother was a devout follower of. Her particular brand of fundamentalist Christianity meant that she believed there was an “unseen, spiritual warfare” all around us, carried out by angels and demons. Which (to her) also meant that humans were also affected by this interdimensional warfare. The demons (that claimed were always around us) could influence our thoughts and moods. They could influence our nightmares and cause us to act out in ways that weren’t natural to our personalities.
Translation: Demons were the reasons behind people having anger issues, depression, and anxiety.
Mental illness was never a part of our lexicon, simply because my mother was the type of person to explain that sort of thing away with the Bible. So when I turned 14 and my depression became even more unbearable, she had no real solutions to offer me. She didn’t like the idea of me going on anti-depressants or receiving any sort of medical attention for it. It was always something to be prayed away.
The “pray the depression away” mentality nearly killed me.
This is why, looking back on my experiences in that household now, I wonder how much easier it would’ve been for me to cope with my depression and anxiety if I’d actually been given the proper tools to do so. Instead of just being told “Take your problems to Jesus”, I’d been given resources like a counselor and consistent antidepressants access. Even support from my mom would’ve helped. Mental health issues make you feel so alone. To know that I wasn’t alone might have helped prevent those nights where I wondered if the world would be any different without me.
I’m not saying that religion can’t help people cope through their mental illness. Whatever works for you, go for it, as long as you’re not harming yourself or anyone else in the process. The only time I have an issue with religion is when its belief in the demon world is used to explain away mental illness. Because demonic influence isn’t actually the reason behind our anxiety attacks. Demonic influence isn’t the reason that so many of us feel worthless to the point that we want to die. Mental illness is the reason we struggle with things like anxiety and suicidal ideation. It’s a serious condition that we can’t just pray away.
You wouldn’t blame Satan for your broken arm, so why blame Satan for wonky brain chemicals?
Kelley Cantrell is a college student and a soon-to-be parent living with their husband in South Jersey. They often tell people that they’re “so queer they shed glitter.” (Just ask their husband!) They’re currently working on a YA book about a homeschooled transgender boy. They hope to become an editor some day and get their master’s degree in writing arts.
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