Clergy Dismiss Mental Illness

Monday, November 10, 2008 by: Laura Weldon
Tags: mental illness, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) A recent Baylor University study of church members who sought help for a diagnosed mental health problem found the illness was denied or dismissed by a third of the pastors. The church members were instead told that the issue was spiritual in nature.

This study surveyed 293 individuals who approached their pastors for assistance with their own or a family member's mental health problems. These illnesses had been previously diagnosed by licensed mental health professionals as serious disorders, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In 32 percent of the cases the pastor claimed there was no mental illness.

The lead researcher, Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Texas, was quoted on as saying, "The results are troubling because it suggests individuals in the local church are either denying or dismissing a somewhat high percentage of mental health diagnosis. Those whose mental illness is dismissed by clergy are not only being told they don't have a mental illness, they are also being told they need to stop taking their medication. That can be a very dangerous thing."

Untreated, mental health problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder tend to increase in severity.

The research, published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture , was limited to Christian churches. It found that women were more likely to have their mental health symptoms dismissed by clergy than men.

A follow-up study indicated that dismissal or denial of mental illness was more prevalent in conservative churches, less so in liberal churches.

The study's implications are troubling, since clergy are often the first person their parishioners seek out for a wide range of problems. People are more likely to turn to clergy, not mental health professionals, particularly when experiencing psychological distress. In fact, it's a cultural norm to do so in many parts of the country.

Numerous studies conducted in the past have shown that nearly half of people with mental health symptoms seek help from clergy at some point. The National Institute of Mental Health reported in 1993 that individuals with disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders requested assistance from clergy more often than from psychologists and psychiatrists combined.

Pastoral education in mental health is on the rise, particularly in mainstream denominations. Research shows that when members of the clergy have up-to-date mental health training and are aware of the services available in the community, appropriate referrals increase. Collaborative efforts between clergy and mental health professionals are the focus, making spiritual as well as mental health a top priority.

About the author

Laura Weldon lives on an organic farm and believes in bliss. Learn more about her book "Free Range Learning" by visiting at

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