The church has made progress in recent history in regards to mental health and mental disorder awareness and response, but we still have a long way to go according to a new study published in the online journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture by Baylor University psychologists. Their findings show that mental illness of a family member severely damages many family’s connection to the religious community and church, causing many to leave the church and often their faith.
The study shows these people are in need, as families with a member dealing with mental illness have less involvement in faith practices, but largely stated they would like their congregation to provide assistance and support. Instead, it seems their needs are largely ignored. Indeed, as CrossMap reports, families with a member dealing with mental illness raked help from the church with depression and mental illness as their second priority. Those without a history of mental illness ranked it their 42nd priority.
“The difference in response is staggering, especially given the picture of distress painted by the data: families with mental illness reported twice as many problems and tended to ask for assistance with more immediate or crisis needs compared to other families,” explained co-author of the study Dr. Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, who is also recognized as an expert in mental illness and the church. “The data give the impression that mental illness, while prevalent within a congregation, is also nearly invisible.”
The researchers surveyed almost 6,000 participants from 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations concerning their family’s stresses, strengths, faith practices, and desires for assistance from the congregation. Their findings showed mental illness strikes 27 percent of families, and those families reported double the number of stressors. These families also scored lower on measures of family strength and faith practices.
“Families with mental illness stand to benefit from their involvement within a congregation, but our findings suggest that faith communities fail to adequately engage these families because they lack awareness of the issues and understanding of the important ways that they can help,” said study co-author Dr. Diana Garland, dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work. “Mental illness is not only prevalent in church communities, but is accompanied by significant distress that often goes unnoticed. Partnerships between mental health providers and congregations may help to raise awareness in the church community and simultaneously offer assistance to struggling families.”