Some churches dismiss mental illness


When people are suffering through a problem, they go see religious leaders for help more often than psychologists or counsellors. But a new study by Baylor University researchers shows that church clergy often dismiss or deny mental illness—even after it’s been diagnosed by a health professional. And sometimes they encourage people to stop taking medication.

Of 293 Christians who sought support from their local church after they or someone they love were diagnosed with a mental illness, nearly one third of them were told that the real problem was entirely spiritual—they sinned too much, didn’t have a strong enough faith, or the devil was involved.

The consequences for the individual are huge: interrupting treatment can be dangerous, says one of the study authors. Mental illness is generally not a problem that goes away by itself. And to make matters worse, the comfort or encouragement people would otherwise get from their faith may be compromised in these situations. The study shows that people whose mental illness wasn’t taken seriously by their religious community actually stopped going to church as often and said their belief in God was damaged.


Some churches dismiss mental illness

  1. one third sounds about right

    so to speak

  2. I once read about a similar dynamic in some 12-step groups, such as AA, where the use of medications was frowned upon, and that explantions of mental illness were downplayed versus holding the addiction as the root of all problems.

    Can’t remember the exact source, I’ll post it later when I find it…

  3. “one third of them were told that the real problem was entirely spiritual”

    “Mental illness is generally not a problem that goes away by itself.”

    This post and the study behind it are poorly conceived, poorly written and obviously biased. A portion of mental illness –yes, about one third— consists of stressed individuals being prescribed benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, etc) by a family doctor. Some of these doctors disregard the posology and warnings from the drug manufacturer and prescribe these drugs for years. They thus accumulate a sizable practice of true drug addicts. The impact of this practice is heavy for both the patients and those around them — Serax is not a appropriate treatment for a victim of harassment. It is also against medical rules of conduct.

    To truly help a stressed individual, one must aim at eliminating the source of stress. Therefore, counseling is more useful than drugs. And good counseling can come from many sources. In fact, MDs are usually too busy to be good at that.

    So yes, about one third of mental health statistics are caused by external stressors and yes, these problems will go away “by themselves”, i.e. with counseling and support, not drugs.

  4. Another way of looking at this study : 67% of these people were told by their clergy that they indeed had an illness requiring medical attention.

    When was the last time a doctor told you that your problem required spiritual attention?

  5. “So yes, about one third of mental health statistics are caused by external stressors and yes, these problems will go away “by themselves”, i.e. with counseling and support, not drugs”

    “All of the participants in both studies were previously diagnosed by a licensed mental health provider as having a serious mental illness, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, prior to approaching their local church for assistance.”

    go back to school

  6. This area really needs to be tip-toed around.
    Any true illness leading to psychosis needs urgent medical intervention to treat the psychotic state. The underlying illness itself is rarely amenable to treatment.

    Unfortunately the diagnostic manual in the wrong hands can be very dangerous. It can make an illness of common human foible and dysfunction. And can lead to inappropriate and unnecessary treatment of a normal (broadly defined) personality.

    Then again, just a casual conversation with a person willing to listen can be very therapeutic. “Listen” being the operative word.
    That person could well be clergy, or barber, or taxi driver, or complete stranger. Or even a Macleans’ staffer.


    Kady – would be very kind and concerned. Her instinct to live-blog everything might raise privacy concerns.

    PW – would be very insightful. And short, abrupt, ironic, can be therapeutic.

    Mr. Coyne – would engage in a dialogue about the perfect market model. Any therapeutic effect might be limited by the “Empathy! Phtew!”

    AP – would refer you to The Cato Institute for Social Dysfunction. Hey, crazy is OK. Just take it somewhere else. No comments.

    Selley – If it’s not covered by a dull conservative columnist, it doesn’t exist. “Don’t talk to me! Talk to Salutin!”. Which may be therapeutic. For Salutin.

    Wherry – would hug you and send you on your way.

    Just imagine.

  7. Ever since shrinks discovered mysterious chemical imbalance that can be resolved by psychodrugs they abandoned psychotherapy that resets the way people think and restores their sanity. Sounds like a great plan to me; your computer has virus – do not worry it is just a chemical imbalance, soak it up in sulphuric acid and it will definitely solve your software problem.

  8. There is an argument for saying that simply holding religious beliefs is an indicator of “mental illness”, particularly the dafter extremes of our mainstream religious blocs.

    I mean, if I present myself to a mental health professional claiming that I am hearing voices, seeing visions and have received instructions from a supernatural voice to give away all my possessions and live in a cave, then I probably will be given some colored pills and told to get counseling.

  9. @Sisyphus:

    And Steyn would blame it on the growing Muslim population. they’re coming to get us, don’t’cha know!

  10. Since 2001 when I approached a Psychologist (there is a growing group of Christian Psychologists and Counsellors, etc) who attends a church and is a Christian.

    I have been receiving help for an anxiety disorder/condition (I’m not fond of being labeled mentally ill) based on being wounded as a child and also in later life. Typically this disorder takes 12 years to heal from.

    The very successful therapy is based on EMDR. I think part of the problem isn’t church or psychology but a certain group of folks that do not want the harm done to children to be brought out in the open. This could be doctors, lawyers, judges ministers or journalists. What are they hiding from?

  11. Are ther legal implications to this? Could the church be sued if someone was harmed after stopping their medication?

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