Addressing the Notion of “Praying Away” Mental Health Conditions

In many Christian circles, regardless of theology, there is the belief that you can often pray your troubles away. There is a belief that you can pray away financial troubles, family issues, physical illness, and yes, mental health issues as well.

While I am very supportive of praying for people who go through these different types of issues,[1] I think that it is extraordinarily important for me to use my past experiences with mental health issues to address the notion that it’s not always as simple as praying your mental health issues away, or that you are subject to condemnation if prayer doesn’t take away your mental health issues.[2]

You see, I was once one of those people who believed that if I prayed long enough and hard enough, any stress or anxiety I felt about my life would just go away. And honestly, in many of those cases, that was the case.

However, around the time of my grandpa’s death last fall, I discovered that suddenly, it wasn’t quite that easy. Far from it. To the contrary, no matter how much I prayed, I felt like I was sinking more deeply into an abyss of mental health issues. In response, I prayed all the harder, and yet I continued to struggle with unwelcome, unpleasant, and upsetting thoughts and ideas, best known as intrusive thoughts.

For a time, I suffered in silence—without a doubt the absolute worst thing I could’ve done at the time. I was worried about condemnation from others if I told anyone—condemnation for being a freak, for being weird, for the fact that I didn’t pray hard enough for all of this to go away, for the fact that I somehow didn’t rely on God enough. The last two of these fears, of course, relate to this notion that you can just “pray it away” and that there’s something wrong with you if you are not able to do that.

Thankfully, I was lucky to have a circle of loving family members and friends (most of whom are Christians, by the way; these people probably know who they are and these people mean the world to me) who didn’t condemn, who didn’t subscribe to the aforementioned beliefs about mental health and prayer. As a result, while my mental health is not always perfect (intrusive thoughts do make a comeback from time to time, seemingly around times of great change in my life), it has never reached quite the lows that it did around the time of my grandpa’s death.

If I want people to learn anything from my story, it would be that, regardless of whether you believe in the power of prayer (I certainly do!), sometimes mental health is more complicated than praying the sickness away, and we are being unjust to ourselves and others if we think it is always as simple as praying something away. Sometimes, it’s significantly more complicated than praying and requires support from family and friends, counseling, and/or therapy. And you know what? That’s okay.

So for anyone out there who is trying to pray the mental health condition away but you feel like you’re failing at it, as I was, just know that you’re not a freak, you’re not condemned, you’re not having issues with “failing to pray hard enough,” and you’re not alone.


[1] I’m a believer in Christ and proud of it. So yes, I am supportive of praying for people who are going through different varieties of struggles, because I pray for people going through different struggles all the time!

[2] If anyone is wondering what the “blind injustice” is, it’s that there’s a widespread belief that there is somehow something wrong with you if prayer does not cure you of your mental health issues.

17 Replies to “Addressing the Notion of “Praying Away” Mental Health Conditions”

    1. Thanks! I’m doing better, thankfully. Not perfect, but better.

      I do hope that my post can contribute (at least a little bit) to the notion of “praying the mental illness away.” I believe in prayer, but sometimes (Often?) it takes more than that.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the reblog! I appreciate it.

      To answer your question (which I assume is at least somewhat rhetorical), I believe that faith and medicine absolutely mix. I believe that as we learn more about God’s creation, we learn more about the ways we can take care of ourselves and others (including medicines).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I believe in the power of prayer. But I prayed so incredibly hard to get better, and it required more than prayer. It required talking with numerous family members and friends, taking whole days (Weekends?) off to take care of my mental health, and counseling, to name a few. And that’s okay.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As an atheist I do not believe in any supernatural benefits of prayer. However, there may be real physiological benefits. After all, prayer may have a “calming influence” on the body. Just as meditation has physiological effects. Especially repetitive and quiet prayer. Calming down, quieting the mental processes can translate into a healthier mental state. If it works for you, do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As someone who’s Christian I do believe that prayer is helpful; that being said, sometimes (often) it takes more than prayer (including for believers), and that’s okay. There’s a toxic notion that there’s something wrong if you can’t “pray the illness away,” and that notion needs to be addressed.

      Like

  2. Thank you for saying the obvious and the avoided. I had a mother-in-law whose happiest decade was her 90’s the first time she was allowed really appropriate mental health care — we won’t mention the Mass. Mental Health incarcerations of the 1930’s which undoubtedly made her immigrant family more fearful of seeking help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Maren. There is often this stigma that you “aren’t praying hard enough” if you’re going through a mental health crisis and prayer doesn’t take it away immediately. Such attitudes must be addressed and confronted.

      Liked by 1 person

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