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November 7, 2014Leadership

Mental Illness, the Church, and a Helpful Resource

When it comes to mental illness and the church, Religion Link is a great resource to explore for more information.
Mental Illness, the Church, and a Helpful Resource
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More than 60 million Americans will experience some form of mental illness this year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That means one in four Americans will find their lives touched by serious depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other form of mental illness, either their own or a family member’s.

In September 2014, two studies emerged that showed while many people struggling with mental illness will approach clergy before consulting a doctor or other health care professional, clergy are woefully underprepared to deal with them. A Baylor University study shows theological schools do very little to prepare clergy for dealing with the mentally ill, and a LifeWay Research study shows more than 20 percent of pastors say they feel “reluctant” to aid the mentally ill due to time pressures. “Many people in congregations continue to suffer under well-meaning pastors who primarily tell them to pray harder or confess sin in relation to mental health problems,” the Baylor study states.

What is the proper role — if any — of clergy and other religious professionals in aiding the mentally ill? How well are churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship prepared to help the mentally ill? Should mental illness be a concern of religion? Why or why not? And what of clergy who suffer from mental illness? What protocols or services are in place to help them?

Recent developments

In September 2014, LifeWay Research, a Christian organization, published “Study of Acute Mental Illness and Christian Faith,” an examination of how the Christian church responds to mental illness. Among its key findings:

  • More than one in five Christian pastors (22%) say they are “reluctant” to help parishioners with mental illness because it “takes too much time.”
  • Twenty-seven percent of Christian churches have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness, according to pastors.
  • Fourteen percent of churches keep a skilled mental illness counselor on staff or train staff to recognize mental illness.

Also in September 2014, a study conducted by Baylor University found that seminaries and other theological schools do very little to train clergy in dealing with the mentally ill.

In spring 2013, Matthew Warren, son of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, committed suicide. The experience prompted the Warrens to launch an education and advocacy initiative with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County and the National Alliance on Mental Illness in March 2014, a program the Warrens hope will make the church more responsive to those among them with mental illness.

Six states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arkansas — allow pastoral counselors to become licensed mental health counselors.

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Mental Illness, the Church, and a Helpful Resource