For Half of Evangelicals and a Third of All Americans, the Solution to Mental Illness is Jesus

Days after making all of us *facepalm* by pointing out that 32% of all Americans think the Syrian crisis is part of the “End Times,” LifeWay Research has published another result from the same poll and this one’s equally disturbing if not worse:

LifeWay Research asked four questions about mental illness as part of a telephone survey of 1,001 Americans conducted Sept. 6-10, 2013.

Thirty-five percent agree with the statement, “With just Bible study and prayer, ALONE, people with serious mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia could overcome mental illness.”

Evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians (48 percent) agree prayer can overcome mental illness. Only 27 percent of other Americans agree.

When I think about how many other obviously ridiculous things evangelicals believe with no evidence whatsoever — Jesus rose from the dead, people choose to be gay, Sarah Palin would have made a great Vice President — their gullibility here shouldn’t surprise me at all. But 27% of everybody else? For shame, non-evangelical Americans… God can’t heal you (even if He makes you feel better) and the Bible doesn’t contain any magic words.

There’s always an uproar, and rightfully so, when Christian Science parents pray for their children’s life-threatening illnesses instead of taking them to a doctor. So where’s the uproar here?

Mental illness should be treated no differently from other kinds; those who have it deserve care from experts, not imaginary friends. Even Pastor Rick Warren said as much after his son committed suicide several months ago:

But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.

Yes, the Warrens prayed. But they also did things that actually had a chance of helping their son. That they couldn’t save his life isn’t a knock on professional help (or the Warrens themselves), but a reminder that mental illness is not a problem that can be so quickly or easily treated.

Ed Stetzer, the president of LifeWay Research, adds that this position — that Jesus and the Bible alone can cure things like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia — is one Christians would be wise to avoid:

… he worries some Christians see mental illness as a character flaw rather than a medical condition.

Christians will go to the doctor if they break their leg, he said. But some may try to pray away serious mental illness.

“They forget that the key part of mental illness is the word ‘illness,’” he said.

Damn right.

On a side note, if you haven’t seen it yet, watch this powerful TED talk from Kevin Breel in which he talks about his depression:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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