Atheism and Depression (The link)
In this blog, we will talk about atheism and depression. We will get to know what is atheism, what is the link between atheism and depression, how can one identify depression in a person who believes in atheism, and how they can overcome their atheistic depression.
What is the link between atheism and depression?
High-quality researches state that large numbers of people use religion and spirituality as a coping mechanism against stress in their lives. Depression surely has many genetic, developmental, environmental reasons for its causation and prognosis but an inability to cope with life’s major stressors is a very prominent factor too.
The thing about religious or spiritual involvement in depression is that it has two sides, it could help or cause depression. Involving in religious activities and holding beliefs in god and religious practices has proven to be capable of reducing stress in people but on the other hand, some people may find it difficult to live up to the standards religious communities set for people to achieve.
Religions also do often use fear as a motivating factor against wrongdoings where followers are made to believe that sins can make one end up in hell. Being unable to achieve the high standards of compassion, generosity, kindness, etc can lead to guilt and a sense of failure to meet expectations of self and others’. This could lead to social withdrawal, being side-cornered by the religious group.
So, to what extent religion and belief in god play a buffer role in depression is questionable.
Higher rates of depression in atheists may be due to the absence of social support from a faith community or lack of commitment to a belief system that makes sense of traumatic events and difficult life stressors.
Apart from these factors, there could be three common struggles that atheists face which are moral, ultimate meaning, and doubt struggles. While these are intrapersonal struggles relevant for believers of god, there are some aspects particular to atheists.
Society, at large, considers atheism to be contrary to the acceptable school of thought. Atheists are considered as people with low moral standards and the ones who are not committed to the well-being of the community, and god-fearing/loving ideologies of the government. But, scientific researches bring along proof that says an absence in the belief of god does not mean an absence in morality-based judgment.
Struggles with ultimate meaning happen to believers of god too. People who adhere to religious norms, across many cultures, draw a connection between their own identity with God as a significant source, which then serves as a guiding force for their actions in life. But, what we need to keep in mind here is the difference as well as the fine interlink between religion and spirituality. Spirituality is a much wider all-encompassing way of life or belief of which being religious could be one component. Many people who identify themselves as spiritual say that they are not religious. Similarly, have a sense of ultimate meaning in life is also not necessary to live peacefully. But struggles with meaning in life have been linked with mental health challenges.
The third intrapersonal struggle is the struggle with doubts. Doubt struggles may be concerned with deep philosophical questions regarding one’s own religious beliefs and convictions or lack thereof. Though many atheists are cent-percent sure that no god exists, some atheists may have questions or doubts regarding their nonbelief. It would be wrong to think that atheists are free from doubt simply because they do not believe in god. Also, some people who currently are atheists might have been believers before. Many young atheists often find it unsettling that the religion that their parents glorified and enforced upon them is actually make-believe and imaginary. For them, the transition could be challenging leading to endless questions in their minds that can overpower their calmness. This struggle could potential mental health challenges including depression.
What is atheism?
Atheism is a philosophical belief where there is an absence of the belief in deities and god worship. People who believe in atheism are called atheists. Many atheists believe there is no god as described in holy books of religions but there is a higher power that determines the course of action in life forms. Many atheists develop their philosophical beliefs after being well informed about religion.
Some reasons why people choose to be atheists:
- Some atheists are people who point out the lack of evidence in the existence of God.
- People might consider that the institution of religion and God as unnecessary and just a social construct.
- Some people are not convinced with the arguments believers pose for the existence of God.
- Some people might find the beliefs of sins, evils, and hell as a redundant approach to a fear-supported life and living.
- Some people are such strong believers in science and the history of thought that they deny the concept of faith and God.
- Some people are inspired by philosopher’s and world leaders, like Karl Marx’s, criticisms of religion.
What does depression look like?
The symptoms of depression look different for each individual depending on various factors like personality, coping techniques employed, the intensity of the situational pain, etc.
Some symptoms to notice are:
- Inability to concentrate and pay attention;
- diminished self-esteem and self-confidence;
- feeling guilty and unworthy (even in a mild type of episode);
- pessimistic views of the future;
- thoughts of self-harm or suicide;
- disturbances in sleep;
- poor appetite.
Apart from these signs, ask yourself some questions. Notice how you feel within your body, are there any physical aches and discomforts, how is your gut doing, do you get headaches often now, do you snap out on your friends and relatives without any particular valid reason, are you crying but are confused why, etc.
How to overcome atheistic depression?
Know that it is okay to stand out
Know that it is okay to have a belief that is contrary to what the world at large believes in. It is okay to build an understanding of life and existence as per your knowledge, ideas, as long as it does not cause any form of harm to your own self and others. Every person has their own identity and personality which is influenced by a number of factors that then further influence further beliefs they hold and develop.
Pick your battles wisely
When you are struggling with depression you might have to face people who bombard you with statements that indicate that your depression is linked to being a non-believer. It is important to weed out people or decide who’s opinions you need to pay heed to. With some people, like close family members and friends, you might want to communicate clearly on how it may not be linked and some love and help is all you need. But trying to change the opinions of all the people with contrasting beliefs will be a tough battle to win which can also eventually drain you out.
Seek social support by joining a support group/ an atheist mentor
Feeling understood means a lot to people when they are in a deep pit of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Support groups exist for a number of causes like depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. support groups are beneficial for people because the feeling of belongingness and oneness in suffering boosts confidence in recovery.
As a community, atheists should be reminding each other about the wonders that surround them. It is far too easy to get lost in the day-to-day struggles and problems which can be boosted further with a lack of social support.
Talking to a senior person who can be a mentor in developing clarity about atheism and the facts about how to be a true atheist at the same time develop a motivational outlook towards life can be helpful. People can also seek inspiration from other fellow atheists who have had depression or are themselves struggling with depression at the moment.
Consult a psychiatrist
A psychiatrist can prescribe medication, for example, antidepressants based on the severity of the condition of the person. Antidepressants are an important part of recovery and going to a professional should not be delayed.
Seek mental health therapy
Consulting a counselor/ psychotherapist is essential in mental health issues. This, most often, goes hand in hand with medication based on the severity of depression.
A counselor can bring in newer ways of perception, help the person to emote better while engaging in healthy boundary-making. The counselor can also help the person eradicate irrational thoughts and beliefs that inhibit the person’s well-being. The counselor and the client, together, also work on and construct healthier coping mechanisms against stressors for the client.
Improve lifestyle choices and work towards good health
During the job search, one can easily neglect their health. Health is a concept with many interlinkages and it is also all-encompassing. One can’t expect to have good mental health if their physical health is deteriorating and vice-versa. Exercising, healthy eating habits, good sound sleep, and practicing mindfulness, along with any medication/therapy if need be, can help attain victory over any condition, including depression.
In this blog, we talked about atheism and depression. We got to know what is atheism, what is the link between atheism and depression, how can one identify depression in a person who believes in atheism, and how they can overcome their atheistic depression.
If you’ve enjoyed the Atheism and Depression mentioned above, I would recommend you to take a look at Surahs for Depression too.
Frequently Asked Questions: Atheism and Depression
What percentage of humans are atheists?
Approximately 7% of the world’s population identifies themselves as atheists. Out of that percentage, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder resides in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%), and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%).
Which is the most atheist country?
Recent statistics say that China has the most number of non-believers. China has the highest number of irreligious people including the Chinese government and Communist Party which officially is atheist. China holds limitations on certain forms of religious expression and assembly, but religion is not banned. Religious freedom is nominally protected under the Chinese constitution.
What is the difference between atheism and agnosticism?
Although have a lot of overlaps, the concepts of atheism and agnosticism are different. The key distinction is that An atheist doesn’t believe in a god or divine being, whereas, an agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in a god or religious doctrine. Agnostics assert that it’s impossible for human beings to know anything about how the universe was created and whether or not divine beings exist.
Bonelli, R., Dew, R. E., Koenig, H. G., Rosmarin, D. H., & Vasegh, S. (2012). Religious and spiritual factors in depression: review and integration of the research. Depression research and treatment, 2012, 962860.
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426191/
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