The health effects of leaving religion

“I felt so hated by this community I used to love,” Penfold said.

Penfold originally went to BYU to be around fellow Mormons. But over the course of the two-and-a-half years he spent there, he started to find the lack of LGBT rights in the church distasteful and was unable to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the evil he saw in the world. This loss of faith in God went beyond his separation from Mormonism, leading to months of depression, anxiety over the prospect of no afterlife, and suicidal thoughts. He’s better now, but for a while there were days when he wouldn’t even leave his bed.

Like Penfold, many who leave religion in America become isolated from their former communities, which can make them anxious, depressed, or even suicidal. Others feel liberated. No deconversion story is the same, but many who leave behind strongly-held religious beliefs can see an impact on their health.