On October 2nd, 2009, Psych Central posted about an ongoing Baylor University Study. This study examines the response of clergy and pastors to mental illnesses. As I read the post, tears came to my eyes. Turns out that even though clergy and pastors are the most frequently sought during times of crisis (even moreso than psychiatrists or other mental health professionals according to Baylor’s press release), they are also most likely to be dismissive of mental health issues.
“The Baylor study found that despite recognizing a biological basis to all mental illness, the views of the BGCT (Baptist General Convention of Texas) pastors surveyed vary across disorders in how much they believe environmental or spiritual factors, such as personal sin, lack of faith or demonic involvement, play a role. Major depressive disorders and anxiety disorders were viewed by pastors as having greater environmental and spiritual involvement and were more often dismissed than the more “severe” mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.”
Another interesting view point of this study was that these same pastors were more likely to recommend medication for a biological illness than for a mental illness. Referrals were more likely to be given to professionals known to be Christan than to those not known to be Christian. Just an opinion on that – perhaps because the clergy/pastors felt these professionals would back up their dismissiveness regarding the congregant’s condition and also not prescribe medication.
Christians struggle with mental illness just like members of any other faith. Dismissing their symptoms or struggles can do so much more harm than good. “The Gospel According to Prozac” is great article focusing on faith, mental illness and medication. It appeared back in 1995 in Christianity Today. The author really narrows the issue down in just one paragraph:
“Ultimately, the primary concern for Christians is not what Prozac will do to them but the whole idea of relying on a miracle drug for emotional and psychological well-being rather than on the God of miracles.”
When I read the Psych Central blog post and subsequent Baylor University press release regarding this study I was absolutely dumbfounded. I cannot tell you how many times I have referred women to their local churches a source of solace. After all, you should be able to rely on your faith in time of need, right? Forgive me if I am mistaken but that is the purpose of the church, correct? Even Jesus loved those who were mentally ill and healed them. And aren’t we all raised to “Love thy neighbor as you love thyself?” To do unto others as you would have done to you? to LOVE those around you regardless of their state? To not judge?
As the magnitude of this study hit me, I suddenly had to wonder how many women I had sent straight to the offices of clergy who only shot them down and left them blaming themselves for their illness.
I believe choosing to take anti-depressants does not make one weak. I believe in the support of the church for those who are hurting. It saddens me to think that there are those on the front lines with their heads in the sand regarding this issue. This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. I want to urge you to visit NAMI Faithnet to read about how you can approach your own church and help grow their sensitivity and awareness towards those with mental illness. I’ve helped other members at my own church and hope you will do the same.
Ok, off my soap box now – let’s get to the Just Talkin’ section of this post. Did you seek help from your local church? What was the response? How did you feel when you approached your clergy? Have you made a difference in the local faith community when it comes to Postpartum Mood Disorders or Mental Health Illness? Talk to me!