Mental illness often ignored by churches

June 23, 2011 at 8:31 PM
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WACO, Texas, June 23 (UPI) -- Mental illness is prevalent in church communities but is also accompanied by significant distress that is often ignored, U.S. researchers found.

Study co-author Dr. Matthew Stanford -- a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, and an expert in mental illness and the church -- says families with a member who is mentally ill would like their congregation to provide assistance.

The study surveyed nearly 6,000 participants in 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations about their family's stresses, strengths, faith practices and desires for congregational assistance.

The study, published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture, found help from the church with depression and mental illness was the second priority of families with mental illness, but ranked 42nd on the list of requests from families that did not have a family member with mental illness.

"The difference in response is staggering, especially given the picture of distress painted by the data: families with mental illness reported twice as many problems and tended to ask for assistance with more immediate or crisis needs compared to other families," Stanford said in a statement. "The data give the impression that mental illness, while prevalent within a congregation, is also nearly invisible."

As a result, mental illness of a family member frequently destroys the family's connection with the religious community, Stanford said.

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