Clergy Often Dismiss Mental Illness

Christians are often being told by their clergy that their previously diagnosed mental illnesses—like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia—aren’t real, according to a new study out of Baylor University in Texas. The researchers found that 32 percent of those who went to their local churches for help with their own or a family member’s serious mental illness were told that the cause of their problems was completely spiritual, the result of such things as personal sin, lack of faith, or demonic involvement.
“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,” says Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, who led the study. “That can be a very dangerous thing.” The results take on even more weight when we’re reminded that research consistently shows that in time of psychological distress, people are more likely to seek help from clergy than from psychologists or other mental health experts.
Clergy were more likely to dismiss mental illness in women than in men, the researchers found, and overall, these denials occurred more often in conservative churches than liberal ones. The research also showed that church members who had their mental illness dismissed by their clergy were less likely to attend church afterward and the experience weakened their faith in God.
The results are published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture. —Heather Wax

Category: Health


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