​​    the war on mental illness

           BY BOB  FRISBY, M.S.

Religion and Mental Health


According to Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American language, College Edition, 1962: “Religion…belief in a divine or super-human power or powers to be obeyed and worshiped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe.” 

I was born Methodist, raised Presbyterian and confirmed Catholic. The following are my beliefs on this subject of religion; use what is comfortable for you and disregard the rest.

Let’s consider this my effort at a “sermon” or a chat from a “life coach”:

Some folks will say they don’t believe in a “Higher Power” and yet they believe in Nature or some other force that is all encompassing of the universe. As for me, I’m thinking it’s a good idea to go with the majority of civilization and believe in the Higher Power concept. I’ve had clients that went to AA meetings and really didn’t believe in a Higher Power. That had to be a bit hard on them but I know they still went and did benefit from the interaction.

Some religions are thousands of years old and some a few hundred; and some just within the past century. People split away from older established religions sometimes because some belief of that church doesn’t make sense to them and they therefore think, “What am I doing going to a church that doesn’t believe what I believe?”

Then there are those who would have you believe that they know the “truth” about religion. Some of these folks claim they heard directly from a Higher Power and were told how to conduct a proper religion. How do you tell one who really heard from a Higher Power from someone who didn’t; someone who just wants your money or a big name for themselves? Your family members and friends could help you tell the difference. Is the head of the church trying to control all of your behavior and all of your finances? Does the head of the church drive the most expensive vehicle available and live in a plush mansion? Some of these things should be considered as well. 

I would encourage people to visit the various established churches and see which ones treat you with respect and make you feel welcome. Which ones seem to have beliefs that encourage behaviors that bring caring to all peoples of the earth? Which ones want peace in the world and discourage hurting others?

I believe it’s mentally healthy to go to an established religion at least on a weekly basis and participate with that community of people. In my opinion, you don’t have to believe everything they believe to participate. You don’t have to utter every phrase they utter, especially if you don’t believe in that phrase. You shouldn’t have to be a bonafide member of that church to get in and participate. Joining that church can come later if you choose. Just being a part of a group of folks who are really decent and law abiding should be a good feeling in your day. And here’s hoping they sing a lot of songs that are positive and lively; songs that encourage the entire group of people to participate in the singing. You can tell a good church song by how loud it gets in the room where it’s being sung. A nun, who did a research internship with me regarding music at the church, can confirm that popular spiritual music is very important to a congregation.

This faith or religion that you connect to has some beliefs and values that you will decide to carry with you as you conduct yourself through life. These beliefs and values help you make decisions about the questions life presents before you. Take the Ten Commandments as an example; thou shall not steal is pretty easy to understand and follow. If you believe in these commandments, you won’t steal, even if it appears easy and you have no way to get caught. To this day I’m amazed at how well written the Bible really is. The folks who put all that down in writing so many centuries ago really had a handle on what it takes for a peaceful society to operate. I always advised my clients to read the New Testament of the Bible as I felt the Old Testament had too much violence in it. I always encouraged my clients to stay away from violence in the realms of mass communication, like the TV and the movies. I just feel it gives the mind options for behavior when a person is psychotic that wouldn’t be there otherwise. I never bought my kids video games that were violent. A personal religion should make living life much easier and less stressful. Such commandments from a religion give order and safety to the people that adhere to them. In my religion, all you have to ask yourself about any behavior you are wondering whether to do or not, is to consider what Jesus would do in this situation? And if you fall victim to human errors, you don’t have to do anything drastic like hurt yourself; just pay your dues through the courts or church and get on with living a more wholesome life. Go and get some help so you don’t make the same mistakes again. If I remember correctly, Christ said to the adulterer, “go and sin no more”.

Given how I was raised and how I now believe, I like to refer folks to the teachings of Jesus Christ. He really is an excellent role model for human behaviors. Just read the Bible chapter of St. Matthew and you’ll understand where I’m coming from. One of my Hindu friends and I were chatting one day about how the vast majority of the religions of the world are like a bunch of cars on the road, all heading in the same direction and to the same spot. They have different appearances and run differently, but they will still reach the same destination: one in being with the “Higher Power”.

As a person gets into the throngs of depression, they will often feel useless and of no value to the world. They feel a lack of direction, and they feel like their life is wasted.  This is when a “Higher Power” can come in handy; they walk with you through “the valley and the shadow of death”. I remember coming to the conclusion that I’m second only to God. That may sound a bit egotistical, but if you think about it, it applies to everyone, not just me! You can believe that you are as important to the Higher Power as the priest at your church. You are just as valuable to the Higher Power as your physician. I’m sure the Higher Power treats everyone equal and appreciates all the different jobs that it takes to run a decent society. You should consider yourself blessed, for you do have skills this society needs. And if you don’t know what they are, get out there and experiment until you out. And remember that the Higher Power is always with you, unlike humans, who usually aren’t there when you need them the most.

Some folks I worked with heard voices in their heads telling them spiritual things or calling them names, or telling them to hurt themselves or others. When the human brain is not chemically stable, for whatever reason, these difficult voices can take center stage. It is very difficult for people hearing voices to trust what a psychiatrist, therapist or case worker says in relation to these voices. Only after many experiences building trust in the relationship, will that person agree to try various therapies, including various medications. The goal is to reduce the voices, eliminate the voices or learn to live with these voices. Learning to life with voices is very difficult and that’s why these folks deserve medals for their effort. I’ve always encouraged these folks to keep following their medication provider’s recommendations, as each year we see improvements in the war against severe emotional illnesses; each year the medications get better and have fewer side-effects. Perhaps those who suffer and still continue to do good works in our society are really the Saints among us. Wouldn’t that be a fine thing to learn when we join the Higher Power? You are in a very spiritual and noble realm when you’re trying to be helpful to anyone who suffers.

Good deeds are of great value to the various Higher Powers that people around the world believe in; so if your bored or don’t know what to do, go volunteer at a church doing something you enjoy; or join an organization like the Salvation Army, The United Way, Veterans organizations, Cancer Society, etc. Any non-profit organization would appreciate your time helping them accomplish their mission in our society.

Here’s hoping you have success getting comfortable with one of the established good churches of this world; it can do a lot in treating severe emotional illnesses before they get too established in the mind.

For further reading:

1.  The June 27, 2015 Rochester, Minnesota Post Bulletin newspaper article titled “Let’s overcome the trouble with the ten commandments” by Al Depman
2.  The December 27, 2001 Rochester, Minnesota Post Bulletin newspaper article titled “Understanding Islam”
3.  The July 31, 2013 Rochester, Minnesota Post Bulletin newspaper article titled “A different type of priest” by Marion Renault
4.  The December 14, 2011 Rochester, Minnesota Post Bulletin newspaper article titled “Listen for the sounds of silence” by Emily Carson
5.  The March 2012 National Geographic Magazine article titled “The journey of the apostles” by Andrew Todhunter
6.  Google one of the major religions and see what Wikipedia has to say about it