September 26, 2014

​Mental Illness Rarely Addressed by Churches

BY ADELLE M. BANKS ©2014 Religion News Service

clergy rarely preach about mental illness to their congregations and only
one-quarter of congregations have a plan in place to assist families of the
mentally ill, a new LifeWay Research survey found.

findings, in a nation where one in four Americans have suffered with mental
illness, demonstrate a need for greater communication, said Ed Stetzer,
executive director of the evangelical research firm, a ministry of LifeWay
Christian Resources, which is an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.

it comes to mental illness, researchers found:

  • 66 percent mention it rarely, once a year or never
  • 26 percent speak about it several times a year
  • 4 percent mention it about once a month
  • 3 percent talk about it several times a month.

we look at what we know statistically—the prevalence of mental illness and the
lack of preaching on the subject --I think that’s a disconnect,” said Stetzer.

survey taken among evangelical and mainline churches was funded by
Colorado-based Focus on the Family and an anonymous donor whose family member
suffered from schizophrenia. It included the perspectives of pastors,
churchgoers who have suffered from mental illness — depression, bipolar
disorder or schizophrenia — and family members of the mentally ill.

Kay Warren commended the survey’s findings and said she and her husband,
megachurch pastor Rick Warren, have been vocal about the
“terrible scourge.” Their 27-year-old son, Matthew, suffered from mental
illness and killed himself last year.

urged church leaders to not only preach about it but allow those struggling
with mental illness to give testimonies to their congregations.

would encourage any pastor or church leader, yes preach a message, but put in
front of your people those who are living with mental illness so they can share
their stories and become human in that process,” she said in a conference call September
22 about the survey.

contrast to the findings about the relative scant attention the pastors give to
the subject, almost seven in 10 mentally ill people said churches should help
families discover local resources for support.

68 percent of pastors said their church maintains a list of local mental health
resources for church members, just 28 percent of families are aware of such

Pingleton, director of counseling services at Focus on the Family, said pastors
are often turned to for help but they may not have had any seminary or Bible
school training to help them meet parishioners’ mental health needs.

survey found that less than half of pastors—41 percent—said they had taken
seminary courses on caring for the mentally ill. Daniel Aleshire, executive
director of the Association of Theological Schools, said about 35 of his
association’s 270 member schools offer master’s degrees in counseling or in
marriage and family therapy. A recent study by Baylor University scholars found
that of 70 seminaries with Master of Divinity programs, a majority offer
elective counseling courses but few students take them.

LifeWay’s finding overall reticence, almost a quarter of pastors surveyed—23
percent—said they had personally struggled with mental illness.