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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Anne, I suspect that theism is more correlated with schizophrenia and atheism with depression, but I also suspect that the correlations will be weak. There are simply too many other factors at play in a person's life, genetics, and brain chemistry. But the extreme cognitive dissonance of religious beliefs has to be at least as stressful to the brain as the lack of a security blanket is to an atheist.
Is there a correlation between mental health and atheism? This I can't answer but I feel pretty sure there is among creative people, be they painters singers actors writers musicians etc.
This is just from personal experience. If i'm getting the gist of this thread wrong I apologise, but I don't absorb the written word too well as I'm terribly dyslexic. But if you are researching mental illness in a group, I have seen it far more often in my creative contacts friends than I have in my atheist contacts and friends.
My understanding is that the best predictor of atheism is intelligence... I think is too general. More likely some specific cognitive style or skill.
Anne,

Did you see more atheism in your patients... or collegues? I don't recall my mental health clients being more likely to be atheists. I have seen a good bit of atheism in collgues in the field. This might point to education, intelligence or the personality styles attraced to our field. Still couldn't throw out mental health as a factor as MANY folks working in the field are there because of their own issues.
The problem with conducting a correlation analysis between mental health and atheism is that we do not have a good definition of what mental health is. This leads to all sorts of problems.
I do believe you have simply stumbled upon intelligent people that are exceptionally self-aware and unusually honest in their self-assessments. For instance; I have nothing to hide and often convert my crazy thoughts on some subject for the amusement of all. My mind works all the time and often keeps me awake...it never stops and the thoughts and ideas simply fly through.

I worked for years on my self-esteem, stuttering and various sexual aspects (thoughts mostly) I found disturbing, bad habits and whatever and made radical changes in my personality and how I present myself to the world.

At 70 years old I still have weird takes on a lot of things in life and am certainly not the best socializer on message boards...

Mental problems? Dozens, I am human.
Whether atheism has a direct link to depression statistically or not isn't the issue. A correlation can be spurious even it is statistically proven to exist. There are many factors relevant to depression. Why choose atheism?

Also, as I said before, the term "mental health" is not well-defined. It is impossible to analyze an issue statistically when something is not well-defined.

Many so-called psychological disorders may not be disorders similar to the diseases in medicine. The types of people who are attracted to the field of psychology often have a weakness - inability to be objective and come out with a definition that is consistent with reality. They tend to resolve the problems based on the social norm. A famous example is homosexuality. Gays and lesbians used to be considered a psychological disorder. Now, think about it carefully. How many so-called psychological disorders will not considered disorders at all in the future after a thorough research and evaluation?
I have issues with depression and anxiety, and I'd probably be happier and better off emotionally if I believed in a personal god who was keeping an eye on me and making sure everything worked out for the best. I suspect that religious people who can take positive action to address their problems when it's possible to do so, and then turn their problems over to god when there's nothing more they can do about them, have a mental state which by many valid metrics would be considered to be healthier than mine.

I have family members who are recovering alcoholics so I'm familiar with AA and its 12-step program. There's definitely a reason why many alcoholics have benefited from belief in a higher power.
Well said Rob. It's actually a valid argument on the part of the Theist to say to the depressed/troubled person: But you'd feel so much better with God taking care of you.

Yes, in times of intense loneliness, it would feel great to have someone whose shoulder I can cry on. Bonus if that someone has superpowers to magically cure me or banish the bad things in my life.

And yes, this invisible superpower being works fantastically as a placebo.

On the other hand, even in my moments of depression and intense loneliness, I do take a very different kind of comfort in knowing I'm still facing reality, and not hiding behind my invisible superpower placebo friend.

Well, in those moments I do have an imaginary shoulder to lean on, attached to a body that looks a lot like Tae Diggs, or John Cho as Sulu, or Mathew Mc-what's-his-face-who-looks-so-fabulous-with-his-shirt-off. But that's a different kind of imaginary-comfort and a lot more healthy imho. :-P
Hm, I suffer from anxiety problems and probably some other things that will never be diagnosed. I was always inclined to have an interest in religion but that very same intense interest is what dragged me straight through religion and into non-belief.

There is a history of mental health problems on my mothers and grandmothers side(my grandmother suffered from a variety of mental ailments (paranoid schizophrenia) from her youth until her death.. though she was a victim of the 60's and 70's crazy psychiatric practices such as shock therapy as well), as well as a surprisingly high rate of suicide(atleast two in the past few years). That portion of the family seems to be extremely religious. (like my mother, who no doubt suffers from some mental issues herself... 'm pretty sure my anxiety was gained from her)

My grandfather on my mothers side is quite crazy as well. he is a hoarder, and makes up absurd stories about my father cooking meth in the bath tub. He is also a very accomplished and intelligent man. He has been a politician, a pilot a journalist and a big rig mechanic (he now teaches vocational college mechanics classes). I don't let on to it very often as I have reason to despise the man but he is the only person in the entirety of my family I feel any kinship with. He and I are the only atheist's that I know of in the family and we both have intense loves for the subject of history and political science.

I really don't know enough about my father's familial past to offer much on his side, but my father is an agnostic. He is also what many commonly refer to as a "crazy mfer". He suffers from issues of RAGE (is where I get my just as short but waaaay less volatile temper from) and has had addiction problems his whole life. He was also a member of the biker gang Satan's Tramps until I was twelve. He shot a man once and in my childhood I saw him merciless beat quite a few men inches from there lives. And yet he can appear to be thoughtful and quite intelligent when not suffering from the above-mentioned issues.

Anyway, there is some random info. Take from it what you will.

Accidentally fell on this article, which correlates with my lifelong perception of the world, that religious and "happy" people can fly right by problems in society and not take note of them, and assume everything is just fine! Whereas moderately grumpy people are actually much more in-tune with the realities of the world. Does that qualify us as depressed, NO, just realists! Of course living in Lalaland will put a smile on your face!


Depressive Realism: Happiness or Objectivity

Cognitive Distortions in Psychologically Healthy People

Despite the major assumption that psychologically healthy people are quite capable of evaluating reality, contradictory evidence has been published since the 1970s. To illustrate, Hendrick and Ugwuegbu (1974), Langer and Roth (1975), and Larwood (1978) reported that non-depressed people have some distortions in the perception of reality. Non-depressed people were reported to be prone to perceiving they had illusory control over their circumstances, even over completely random events. Langer (1975) referred to this notion as illusion of control. Similarly, it was reported that non-depressed people tend to attribute their success to internal factors and to attribute failure to external factors, which is known as self-serving bias (Miller and Ross, 1975). Ross (1977) reported that non-depressed people overwhelmingly attribute the causes of behavior to the individual, without considering contextual variables. The results of similar studies show that non-depressed (normal) people are overly optimistic about themselves and think that they have control over life¾that they underestimate the probability of the occurrence of unwanted negative future events (Taylor and Brown, 1988).

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