Church Congregations Can Be Blind to Mental Illness, Study Suggests
June 22, 2011
Mental illness of a family member can destroy the family's connection with the religious community, a new study by Baylor University psychologists has found, leading many affected families to leave the church and their faith behind.
The study shows that while families with a member who has mental illness have less involvement in faith practices, they would like their congregation to provide assistance with those issues. However, the rest of the church community seemed to overlook their need entirely. In fact, the study found that while help from the church with depression and mental illness was the second priority of families with mental illness, it ranked 42nd on the list of requests from families that did not have a family member with mental illness.
"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," said study co-author Dr. Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, who is 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 rest
"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.