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Why I Left Christianity: Mental Health

Leaving Christianity – Part Three

[Trigger warning: this post deals with depression and anxiety.]

Mental health is a topic which Christians often seem very hesitant to speak about. It always felt to me like a taboo topic, which is why I didn’t speak up about my own mental health struggles for so long. Even when I did, I was very scared to do so.

I consistently suffered from depression and anxiety for a long time. It took a while for me to recognize the anxiety, but I knew I was depressed, even as a teenager. I didn’t tell anyone.

I used to regularly have anxiety attacks at church – as a teenager and even a child. I didn’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to know what was happening to me. As a kid, I was bullied at church, and the leaders watched it happen and never stood up for me. As a teenager, I was criticized by my pastors for the way I dressed, the books I was reading, or the photos I posted on social media. These and many other things contributed to me feeling anxiety every time I went to church. Sometimes the anxiety was so heavy, I couldn’t handle it. I would run to the bathroom during the service, hide there for a while, and cry. Nobody addressed my behavior in a sympathetic or concerned way. If anyone addressed it at all, it was to criticize me for missing out on part of the service. I couldn’t explain how I felt; I didn’t know what was wrong with me.

The church taught me that depression is a choice. “God gave you joy,” they said, “and if you’re depressed, that just means you’re choosing to reject His gift. Receive the gift of joy by faith, and you won’t be depressed anymore.”

They made it sound so simple. In multiple services that I attended, there was an altar call for people who were depressed. “Come to the altar and receive His joy! Leave today without depression!” was the promise the preachers made. Time and again I would go to the altar, full of faith that my depression would get traded in for joy. Time and again I would go home depressed.

It was difficult enough in those services to stand up and walk out of the pew, down the aisle and to the altar. It was basically admitting to all of my friends and acquaintances at the church that I was depressed. I felt like everyone there would judge me, or at the very least, pity me. I dreaded when they would tell me later, “I’m so proud of you for going to the altar,” as if they understood what I was going through. But I pushed through the shame anyway, because I was so desperate for healing.

But the worst thing was, after all of that, to leave feeling exactly the same as when I came.

I felt guilty for being depressed. I didn’t feel like depression was a choice. Depression was difficult and suffocating and draining. Why would I choose it? But everyone around me told me that it was a choice, so I accepted that belief. I accepted that I didn’t have enough faith to get free from depression.

This guilt contributed to my silence. I didn’t tell anyone that I was depressed, because I was so afraid they would judge me.

The fear of judgement contributed to my anxiety, which grew more and more as I followed the teachings of the church, exercised my faith, believed for joy, and still the depression stayed.

Even anxiety was a choice, or so the church told me. The often quoted verse was, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV) So if you have a “spirit of fear” – or, anxiety – it must have been something you chose or allowed. You must have opened the door to the devil in some way.

I was even taught that anxiety medication is a form of witchcraft. Seriously!

I wanted to see a therapist from the time I was 16. I knew it would help me. But, “If you go see a secular therapist, it means you don’t have enough faith. The Holy Spirit is the only counselor you need,” the church told me, quoting John 14:26.

It was only when I started admitting that I was depressed and talking about my mental health that it began to improve. Hesitantly, I confessed to my most trusted friends and family that I was struggling. Fortunately, I was met with love and understanding.

But the negative teachings of the church kept me suffering in silence, alone, for a very long time. And I know I am not the only person who has had this experience.

I finally was able to label my anxiety as such when I was 20. I remember driving almost an hour to go to a church service. I arrived a few minutes late. I was so afraid that I would go inside and everyone would judge me for being late. I just sat in my car, panicking. The longer I sat there, the later I was to church, and the more I panicked about being late. I stayed in my car and cried. Then I drove all the way home without ever going inside.

I finally began seeing a therapist when I was 21. She told me that the biggest source of the depression and anxiety that I experienced seemed to be religion and the church. I was not surprised.

Fortunately, my mental health has greatly improved since then. I’m glad that I was able to move past the negative and harmful messages that I absorbed from the church. I feel freer and healthier than ever before. But it still saddens me to know that so many people in the church are suffering in the same way I did – unnoticed, untreated and afraid to speak up.

To everyone: If you are also dealing with depression, anxiety or mental health in general, please do not be ashamed. Consider sharing what you’re going through with someone you trust. Please know that it wasn’t your choice or your fault, and it’s okay to seek help.

If you are not having mental health struggles, someone that you know probably is. So please, understand that it’s not their choice. Be a safe space for people to talk about what they’re going through with no judgement. The church has the potential to be a healing, restorative space – so if you are a Christian, be a part of making it that way.


One response to “Why I Left Christianity: Mental Health”

  1. Thank you for sharing on this topic Allie! I am genuinely sorry you went through this. I adore you and wish that I was there for you more then. But I’m here now! And you are not alone. Love you 😍


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