I am not a psychologist, nor have I done in depth research on the prevalence of OCD or other mental illnesses based on religious preference or belief in God. However, people like to look for correlations, cause and effect, etc. Are you OCD because you are a Mormon? If I didn’t believe in God, would my mental health improve? Or vice versa?
I’m actually a strong proponent of the idea that mental illness (including OCD) is biologically driven while also influenced by one’s environment: nature aggravated by nurture, as it were. So, maybe you could argue that being pious or otherwise religious might exacerbate mental health problems, guilt complexes and all that. And I’m not going to pretend that I am an expert on this subject and make a definite stance, but my thoughts on the matter are that yes, our upbringing, religious background, location, family, friends, education, affluence, personality, etc. all influence our health: physically, emotionally, and mentally.
That being said, would giving up any of those things suddenly and drastically improve my OCD? From personal experience, avoidance made my OCD worse. Or at least, it caused it to shift and morph. That’s the thing about fighting OCD—you have to do the things that freak you out and learn that it’s okay to not feel okay. It’s okay to not be in control of everything because that’s impossible.
Some might say, well, being Mormon causes you to feel guilt about doing or not doing certain things. And yes, scrupulosity (which we can discuss more at a later date) is a very real and very debilitating form of OCD that can cause a person to feel like a sinner or that he or she is evil. Maybe religious people are more prone to this type of OCD? I’m not sure, but do I think that renouncing one’s faith will cure scrupulosity? Well, maybe he wouldn’t care so much about sinning anymore or think that swearing would send him to hell (or whatever), but my guess is that the OCD would move on to something else. Maybe hand washing. Maybe driving concerns. Something. Anything.
The necessity of faith
When I was having a breakdown about strep and leaking urine and bathroom issues, deciding that I wasn’t going to pray or read my scriptures would not have helped me. Yes, it actually was harder for me to feel engaged spiritually during that rough patch. Prayer, studying, and going to church didn’t really provide me a feeling of relief because I was so all consumed by the anxiety, fear, and worry. But still, I personally don’t think that running away from faith would help cure me of OCD. And if you aren’t religious, I still think there is a bit of faith present in any successful battle with mental health– maybe not a faith in a supreme being, but a faith that life will somehow improve (or that you can handle it and make it through each day).
I think the thing that is hard for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes is the belief that if we just pray enough, get a priesthood blessing, and fast with true faith we will be healed: of any ill. This isn’t always the case, but that doesn’t mean we need to give up on religion or that our faith wasn’t sufficient. It means that we need to get out there and work for our solution. Get help. Maybe get medication. And don’t be ashamed. Not everything and everyone finds an immediate miracle. Sometimes miracles are round about and sometimes they don’t come. And sometimes we have to create our own.