One in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many look to their church for spiritual guidance in times of distress. But they’re unlikely to find much help on Sunday mornings.
Most Protestant senior pastors seldom speak to their congregation about mental illness. And some pastors are reluctant to help those who suffer from acute mental illness because it takes too much time.
These are merely a couple of findings from a recent and robust study of faith and mental illness by Nashville-based LifeWay Research and co-sponsored by Focus on the Family and the family of a man who endured schizophrenia.
The study was designed to help churches better assist those affected by mental illness.
Researchers looked at three groups in this multiple-part project, including surveys of:
- 1,000 senior Protestant pastors about how their church approaches mental illness
- 355 Protestant Americans diagnosed with an acute mental illness—either moderate or severe depression, bipolar or schizophrenia. Among them were 200 church-attendees
- 207 Protestant family members of people diagnosed with acute mental illness
Researchers also conducted in-depth, qualitative interviews with 15 mental health experts on spirituality in faith.
The study found that pastors and churches want to help those who experience mental illness. But those good intentions don’t always lead to action.
There are key disconnects revealed in the summary of the findings, such as:
- Few churches have plans to assist families affected by mental illness
- Few churches are staffed with a counselor skilled in mental illness
- There is a lack of training for leaders on how to recognize mental illness
- There is a need for churches to communicate to congregations about local mental health resources
- There is a stigma and culture of silence that leads to shame
More resources are available at www.thrivingpastor.com/mentalhealth.