About a year ago a friend of mine died. He was the first person I take credit for de-converting away from theism to atheism. While I can’t say for certain that his death was suicide, I can’t rule it out. It has also been about four months now since the death of Humanist activist and friend Joe Fox. Joe was the reason I became the head of PhillyCoR and while he seemed like the happiest person you could know and was always there for anyone who needed help, he apparently secretly struggled with depression. I also have another friend who recently de-converted and is having a very difficult time adjusting to the reality that God doesn’t exist. While I don’t think he is suicidal, I would be surprised if he didn’t think about it at times.
This is something we don’t like to admit, but it is true. There is a problem within the atheist community of depression and suicide. I know we would all like to believe that atheists are happier people than religious believers and in many ways we are. But we also have to accept the reality that in some very important ways we are not.
Ignorance really is bliss. People are happier when they have no idea what is going on. But when people do know what is going on, when they actually have a clearer picture of reality, they are in a better position to make themselves really happy. It is the difference between being high on drugs and being high on life. Or in this case high on Jesus vs. high on the vast wonders of the universe. Obviously, being high on life is the better kind of happiness.
Plus, when we know what is not making us happy, we can take actions to fix things and to make us happy. If we just wash down the pain with religious platitudes, we don’t actually fix any actual problems. With that said though, recognizing the problems sometimes isn’t enough. Atheists are often isolated and ostracized. We see the sad state of affairs in the world and see the harmful influences of religion which at times seem overwhelming with little to no hope in sight. Religious believers can find help and comfort in their religious institutions, but atheists usually can only find help online or in very small local communities that don’t meet very often.
Then there is the transition period in which an atheist has just left religion and feels completely lost. They are often without the community they have depended on for so long and suffer from the existential questions of life for the first time. They were often used to the belief that God is with them everywhere and now they know that it was all false. So they feel really lonely and even angry that they have been lied to all their lives.
We have to do better. Atheists don’t have to suffer alone. We have to try to reach out to those who need help and those who need help have to actually reach out and get the help they need. Fortunately, there are a lot of atheists who go into the field of psychology and psychiatry. Don’t suffer quietly and alone. If you or someone you know needs help, check out The Therapist Project where you can get help from an atheist friendly therapist. If that isn’t for you, find a friend, someone in your local community you can trust, a fellow atheist online, or anyone you think might be able to help.