Is there a correlation between mental health and atheism?

I'm a psychology teacher with a keen interest in both mental health and atheism and I think I have spotted a link between the 2. Of the atheists I chat to regularly, a significant number of them have mental health issues and I believe there is a negative correlation. I would like to know if a) the same applies to you; and/or b) if you are aware of any studies that have investigated this link.

So far I have not unearthed any and the study being conducted by Sam Harris is looking at a positive correlation. I am considering a study of my own but it is most definitely just an idea at the moment. I would appreciate candid responses, but recognise it's not necessarily a subject people want to talk about.

I have my own theory as to why this link occurs, but I will keep it to myself for now. Many thanks to those who feel they want to and can respond.

Tags: Crtitcal, Health, Personal, analysis, responsibility

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I'm delighted that you want to study this, Anne. However, "mental health issues" is an extremely broad term, and I highly doubt that all kinds of mental problems are equally present in both believers and atheists, if only because they tend to perceive and interpret the world so differently from each other.

It might be useful to consider which kinds of mental problems correlate to either atheism or extreme-faith-orientation, rather than just whether there is a blanket correlation of "mental health issues" for one side or the other. One side might score higher on the autism index, and the other on, say, incidents of paranoid schizophrenia -- just to take a couple of examples at random.

Good luck with the study!


~Wordplayer
I suspect that atheists would be more likely to have social anxiety disorder, just because atheists don't generally have the support group/community interaction that churches provide. That may change as atheists become more outspoken and atheist groups grow in numbers.
I was specifically vague i.r.o. 'mental health issues' because I didn't want to preclude anybody from contributing. I am inclined to think there is a link between atheism and depression/manic depression, however that doesn't mean I don't think there may be other correlations, but mood disorders can be transient and/or recurrent rather than permanent and unalterable. The nature of mood disorders means that sufferers tend to be introspective and self-critical. It is these sort of traits that are shared by most of the atheists I know.

I am thinking aloud at the moment and don't have a definite idea of which way to steer such a study. I am largely trying to gauge others' opinions on whether they think there is something in the idea. All contributions gratefully received.
It isn't what you want, but you might find it interesting to research the writings of Dr. Albert Ellis. Dr. Ellis invented Cognitive Therapy. His form of it is called "Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy"(REBT). Beyond being an effective therapy it is an excellent philosophy of life for preserving mental health without using any kind of religious beliefs. Dr. Ellis used to have a "Top 12" list of irrational beliefs that contributed to neurosis. One of them included that belief that there had to be something more powerful then you and that you need there to be. Dr. Ellis, until he mellowed in his later years ( he died a happy Atheist ) used to write some very strong pieces against theism. You can probably find them on google.
Many people I work with feel that I have issues. If they were any problem to me in the way I prefer to live my life I guess that I would agree. I am very reclusive, and am at my happiest when I am home alone. As a result I don't date, socialize, or allow people into my home, the sole exception being family, mainly my daughter. I avoid eating in public and prefer to do my shopping at a 24 hour store in the middle of the night. I think it's probably the result of years of barracks living with very little privacy. I never feel lonely or depressed, in fact the only time I feel out of sorts is when I am around people for too long. I have always felt this way, but always found myself striving to be "part of the norm" when I was younger. This led me, of course, into many a tepid friendship and a failed marriage. I just had to gain the knowledge that I am a functional anthropophobe (being that I can leave the house and am gainfully employed). I don't know that this has any correlation with my being an atheist. You tell me.
Your coworkers might think you're depressed or have post traumatic disorder or something. If you are happy and not causing anyone harm then I don't see what the problem is. (I read a psychology book that listed this "hermit" tendency, or having no need for people, as a personality disorder, but it could be kind of like asexuality; if the person is OK with themselves, why is it a problem??) Is it related to atheism? Religion is human-centric, and since you aren't that into people, I could see a correlation in some ways.
So what's ur theory then???
Come on woman...
Out of worldy experience alone and no expertise in psychology I am thinking that there probably is a small positive correlation between psychosis and religous thought, and a larger negative correlation between depression and religious thought. to me religion seems to be the means which people ignore the negative aspects of their lives, therefore they are typically happier, but this drug also can play a negative effect pushing them into deeper psychosis and less acceptable dellusions
I was diagnosed with "clinical depression" when I was younger. After a few years I stopped seeing shrinks (I really really really hate psychologists, and child psychologists rank right up there with child molesters in my book) and took myself off drugs. I became a much happier and more productive person. Officially, I have an untreated mental illness.

If religion is denial of reality, don't all theists suffer from mental illness?

Of course, even if you find one, correlation is not causality.
People often claim to be happier when they have religion. Substance abusers are often happier when they're drunk/stoned, but that doesn't mean substance abuse is a positive thing.
As I said earlier in this thread, I think this stems from the way churches act as a support group. The beliefs of the religious are constantly reinforced by other members of their congregation. Because of this, they probably have generally higher self-esteem and confidence.
It could also be that they feel pressure to say that they're happy, to show that religion "works" and that they're a good *whatever religion they are* although I don't think every happy religious person is like that.

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