There remain many misconceptions about mental health. But one would hope that a mental health provider would have insight.
Twitter user Michael Fulwiler re-posted a LinkedIn post by workplace expertise Natasha Bowman, founder of the Bowman Foundation for Workplace Equity and Mental Wellness. In the post, Bowman called out an organization named BetterHelp for steering her to pray when she said she was in need of mental health help.
BetterHelp calls itself “the world’s largest therapy service, facilitating over 5,000,000 video sessions, voice calls, chats, and messages every month.” Founded in 2013, the platform connects people worldwide with 30,000 licensed, accredited, and board-certified therapists in its network.
BetterHelp does have a sister site called Faith Counseling that caters to clients looking for a Christian therapist.
BetterHelp also states on its website, “Faith is an excellent tool to keep hope alive when you’re depressed.”
There have been studies that examine the connection between faith and mental wellness.
One study published in the journal Bipolar Disorders in February 2010 looked at religious involvement and bipolar and suggests that prayer or meditation may be an important coping mechanism for those in “a mixed state (co-existing symptoms of mania and depression),” BP Hope reported.
In her LinkedIn post, Bowman wrote, “BetterHelp please do better. I’ve been struggling mentally and needed urgent help, and I reached out to BetterHelp for faster service than it would take to see my psychiatrist.”
According to Bowman, the intake form she was requested to fill out asked about her faith.
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“I stated that I didn’t practice religion,” Bowman wrote. She went on to say that when she did get to talk with the therapist, she was quizzed about her religion.
“The first question the therapist asked was about my religion. I told her I was not a person of faith,” Bowman wrote. “She ignored me and told me that prayer would solve all of my problems, including my bipolar disorder diagnosis and recent struggles.”
Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression), according to the Mayo Clinic.
Bowman went on to say, “As a Black person from the south, it is bizarre that I don’t practice religion, but that is not the reason for my mental health struggles. I know plenty of very faith-based/religious people who have also been diagnosed and struggle with a mental health disorder.”
While BetterHelp is not a Black-run organization and whether or not Bowman’s complaints are accurate as some on Twitter have labeled it a hoax, there are still many stigmas about mental health in the Black community, with some believing that mental illness can be “prayed away.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 91 percent of Black Americans say religion is somewhat or very important in their lives, and 79 percent identify as Christian. Religion, obviously, plays a major role in the lives of many Black people. And this faith often comes int play when faced with mental health struggles.
“For me, faith has been critical in my path to healing. However, it has also hindered my health. I was raised in the church and used to sing soprano in the choir. I had long wanted to get baptized, but my suicidal thoughts kept me from going through with it. My pastor and his wife showed concern, and I began to do bible study with them to learn more about connecting with God. While it helped a little, and was comforting, I still struggled with suicidal thoughts,” wrote Alicia Montgomery, founder and executive director of the Qween Foundation Inc., on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Montgomery was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia.
Montgomery added, “After my suicide attempt at age 14, I felt like I could never go back to church again. In the eyes of the church, I had committed the greatest sin, and I couldn’t tell anyone because I knew I would be labeled. It would be about six years before I stepped into another church again.”
Montgomery goes on to explain the connection many in the Black Church point to between mental illness and prayer.
“Historically, mental health issues were deemed ‘a vice of the Devil,’ and the solution was prayer and stronger faith,” Montgomery wrote.
She continued, “While calling on someone to ‘hold fast to their faith’”’ is not an issue, when it’s presented as the only answer, it silences a lot of questions. Questions like, ‘What do you do when prayer and faith don’t seem like enough?’”
Photo by Alex Green, Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/crop-ethnic-psychologist-writing-on-clipboard-during-session-5699456/