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.

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Well, it has been proven somewhere that religious people feel happier, same applies to people with a positive view on life.

Personally, I can't stand that extreme happy-go-round attitude. It would drain me completely out of energy. I have found all those people to be VERY energic. Am I the only one who have made the same connection there? (All people I have met who are believers and have a positive outlook at life all are very energic to the point where I have huge issues to even slightly keep up in their tempo. My grandma is one of those people.)

Also, I think you must define the term "mental health issues" better. Do you speak of a higher risk of getting a depression or just feeling more down in general? Or do you mean psychotic disorders such as psychosis? Or personality disorders such as narcissism?

I would like to read more about the topic, maybe you could mail it to me at

As for the mental health issue, I realize I might have a higher tendency for depression but there might be many factors to be involved, such as biological, outside circumstances (if a person close to you died f ex) and what background you come from. I lost my mother at an early age (6) and I am also adopted, I read somewhere in a survey that girls which loose their mothers below the age of 12 later develop a higher tendency towards developing depression later in life.

If we now compare those factors, it's doubtful it has anything to do relating to my faith. I am a pagan though, so I am not really an atheist, but my beliefs are closely tied to atheism. It's like a mix between Taoism, Buddhism and scientific belief. If you want to know more you can just ask me.

Anyway, I am hugely interested to see your theory, so it would be very nice of you if you can mail it to me :) I find psychology to be an interesting topic, and it's time to blow the myth already that we must be afraid to be mentally sick! People still think of the sanitoriums of old, and indeed, it was maybe just 50 years ago since those were still used actively, but so the more important to not feel ashamed to admit you don't always feel mentally well.

Every human being will be depressed at least once in their lives, if not solely because of outside circumstances such as family members dying (which is unavoidable). I think it's important to admit that you don't always have to be happy and satisfied with your life, and that there should be no need to keep such things in secret. I think the risk of depressed committing suicide is higher just because they never get any support, because they and others don't dare to talk about it.
"Every human being will be depressed at least once in their lives, if not solely because of outside circumstances such as family members dying (which is unavoidable)." -LeaT

That's because depression and sadness get mixed around. If you are really sad because a family member has died, you are not depressed - you are experiencing normal sadness. It only becomes depression when it becomes excessive or maladaptive. This distinction has become lost in a society that prescribes drugs to fix everything. What if the emotions of sadness and despair are key to dealing with the struggles of life, and Prozac is disrupting this process?

Anyway, I'm an atheist psychology major with anxiety and depression issues, so I'm kinda interested with this theory too.
Snap! I'm in exactly the same position and I couldn't agree more with your analysis of sadness vs depression. If I were the only person in my atheist circle to whom this applied, I would not have considered a correlation. Are you aware of any studies along these lines?
Ok, this is not what I have been taught and does not agree with many books I read about the subject either. In the terms I have been taught, even feeling a little down can be classified as a depression if the condition lasts during at least 2 weeks.

Also, you seem to assume people put a lot of weight on medicine. While I can definitely agree that medicine has become an easy way for many to treat people because of lack of any real time to help people progress, I think you make a little of a straw man saying "Prozac is disrupting this process". Of course, you would become more vulnerable if you have never felt sad.

I would also like to hear your true definition of sadness. In my personal experience, I cannot define any true difference between the two, I think through personally experiences, they all feel the same.

If you say, loose someone you love, it wouldn't be unusual that you feel depression at least for 6 months. It happens that the person experiencing the loss takes it so bad they also think of suicide themselves, I doubt that's very unusual either.

Anyway, what you have been taught might depend on which direction you took? I don't like to adhere to any of the specific psychology branches, I personally find it silly you cannot mix how you like, you MUST decide one branch to work with only. I think that's a major flaw in modern psychology today, and the lack of developing your own ideas and branches since you still will always be classified as a psycho-analyst, humanist, cognitive therapist etc.
I think there is some confusion arising from this thread. I am not suggesting that theists are happier and more mentally healthy, I suspect most are seriously deluded. What I do think is that atheists tend to be more analytical of their surroundings and on the whole take personal responsibility more than theists. I would argue that it's this level of personal responsibility which is a variable within the mental health continuum.

Speaking for myself when depression took hold of me, it was precisely because I owned my actions and thoughts, that the depression became so acute. I had nobody/thing to attribute it to and so was in a state of self-torment.

I acknowledge the chemical interaction that goes with depression, but as yet we don't know which came first, depression or a chemical imbalance. I am also not suggesting that all atheists have mental health problems. It is because of the possibility of a link that I am interested in it.
Aye, I think there might be an interesting point there. I have gotten the impression that some theists live their lives like fluffy dreams, with no real connection to reality. What doesn't fit, they choose to not see or admit. This in turn can lead to lack of responsibility and since they feel someone or something will take care of them, even when there are bad times.

I also think prayer should be included here, as it has been noted praying theists are happier than non-praying theists. I guess praying can have a good impact on one's mental health.
"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one." - George Bernard Shaw
And atheists can drink, so it evens out.
I need to work on my post for depression in the Healthy Living group.

It appears that clinical depression is caused by inflammation which is healed by anti-depressants. That's why there is a lag in anti-depressants beginning to work; compared to ingestion of serotonin precursors.
Superbly said!
Good for you, I think that's a healthy way of looking at it. I've always thought I might have Attention Deficit Disorder but... ... ...
It's only an issue if you find it to be an issue, or don't like it.




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