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.