In a recent Baylor study of 293 Christians who approached their local church for assistance in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, Baylor researchers found that more than 32 percent of these church members were told by their church pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. The study found these church members were told the cause of their problem was solely spiritual in nature, such as a personal sin, lack of faith or demonic involvement. Baylor researchers also found that women were more likely than men to have their mental disorders dismissed by the church.
In a subsequent survey, Baylor researchers found the dismissal or denial of the existence of mental illness happened more in conservative churches, rather than more liberal ones.
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.
“The results are troubling because it suggests individuals in the local church are either denying or dismissing a somewhat high percentage of mental health diagnosis,” said Dr. Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, who led the study. “Those whose mental illness is dismissed by clergy are not only being told they don’t have a mental illness, they are also being told they need to stop taking their medication. That can be a very dangerous thing.”
Let’s recap, because I know I had difficulty believing this…
* Nearly 1/3 of those talking to their clergy have their diagnosed mental illness dismissed with a wave of the hand. No, that’s not quite true… They are first told the medical diagnosis is wrong, then judged for “a personal sin, lack of faith or demonic involvement”, and lastly told to say “Hail Mary” so many times, attend religious services more often, submit to the cat-o-nine tails, or otherwise participate in some ritual.
Anyone else feel like comparing today’s clergy to B-movie witch doctors?
* The researchers found that women were more likely than men to have their mental disorders dismissed by the church. The sad thing here is that this does not surprise me at all. In fact, I bet the actual numbers/percents would make me
mentally ill possessed by demons, with all the physical symptoms, like vomiting.
But perhaps the real kicker here is that those study participants who had their mental illness dismissed were also those in the study who attended church more than once a week, and described their church as “conservative or charismatic.” Maybe those “charismatic clergy” just don’t think there’s enough room in their church for more than one crazy.
The good news here is that the Baylor study found those who had their mental illness dismissed or denied were less likely to attend church. (But many also stated that their faith in God was weakened; that’s the problem with organized religion, people throw the deity out with the
bath bad waters. However, at least they got away from the real craziness and now, perhaps, can find spirituality.)
A 32% dismissal/denial of mental illness would explain at least part of the problem of people in the pews. But as I’ve often seen the born-agains and other bible-thumpers prey on the weak, including the mentally ill, as part of their membership drive practices (i.e. convert quotas), I think we would have to call this prey-convert-dismissial-leaving as a serious turn-over problem management should address. Add it to the list of other serious moral issues churches have.
The study was done, in part, because research consistently showed that it is clergy ~ not psychologists or other mental health experts ~ who are sought most often in times of psychological distress. I guess because those with faith assume they can have faith in their clergy; I hope they (again) see the error of their ways.
The moral of the story: Stay on your meds, but get off the organized religion.