For Many Churches, Mum’s the Word on Mental Health Issues

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Mental health is an issue many Americans inside and outside of the Church experience … but does the topic remain mostly taboo within the Body of Christ?

Many Christians might find it hard to believe that nearly a quarter of pastors (23 percent) report that they have experienced some kind of mental illness, according to a recent study of faith and mental illness conducted by LifeWay Research and co-sponsored by Focus on the Family.

As bastions of the faith for their congregations and communities, pastors are still human, after all, as this new survey reveals that they are far from being immune to mental health issues. The research also divulges that 12 percent of Protestant pastors indicated that they were diagnosed with having a mental health condition.

The statistic on pastors holds true for all Americans, in general, as one in four (about 25 percent) throughout the U.S. suffer from some form of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Mum’s the Word?
Despite the prevalent problem with mental health that has plagued the nation, most Protestant churches remain mute on the topic.

“Many look to their church for spiritual guidance in times of distress,” the Nashville, Tennessee-based research organization points out. “But they’re unlikely to find much help on Sunday mornings. Most Protestant senior pastors (66 percent) seldom speak [once a year, rarely, or never] to their congregation about mental illness.”

Only 26 percent of pastors address mental health problems via sermons or large group messages several times a year, while an even smaller number (4 percent) speak on them about once a month and 3 percent talk about these issues several times a month.

Broken down even further, of the 660 of the 1,000 Protestant senior pastors surveyed, 16 percent said they speak about mental illness once a year, with 39 percent rarely doing so and 10 percent never touching the topic. Furthermore, 22 percent of these pastors say they are hesitant to help congregants with acute mental illness because it would require too much of their time, while 74 percent disagree and say the make the time.

But do Christians want the topic of mental illness within their congregations to remain taboo? Approximately 65 percent of believers who have a family member with a mental illness welcome such discussions, while 59 percent of those suffering from mental illnesses agree such conversations should take place at church.

Equipped to Meet the Need?
Simply put, pastors and churches are ill-equipped to meet this prevalent demand for biblical help and counseling when it comes to assisting those with mental problems.

“Our research found people who suffer from mental illness often turn to pastors for help,” LIfeWay Research executive director Ed Stetzer pointed out. “But pastors need more guidance and preparation for dealing with mental health crises. They often don’t have a plan to help individuals or families affected by mental illness, and miss opportunities to be the church.”

Even though most pastors know people clinically diagnosed with mental illness — as 59 percent attest they have counseled congregants who were subsequently diagnosed — the deficiency of churches to handle and care for those in the congregation suffering from mental illness becomes evident in the numbers:

“Only a quarter of churches (27 percent) have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness, according to pastors … [a]nd only 21 percent of family members are aware of a plan in their church,” LifeWay researchers divulged. “Few churches (14 percent) have a counselor skilled in mental illness on staff, or train leaders how to recognize mental illness (13 percent), according to pastors.”

Despite the fact that a majority of churches offer literature to point congregants in the right direction for assistance regarding mental health, most do not access such support.

“Two-thirds of pastors (68 percent) say their church maintains a list of local mental health resources for church members,” the research reveals. “But few families (28 percent) are aware those resources exist.”

But brochures and lists do little to embrace congregants in need of help and understanding for their mental conditions.

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SOURCE: One News Now
Michael F. Haverluck

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