Mental health support a priority for those with mental illness

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Mental illness often ignored by many churches

A new study by Baylor University has found that some church communities are sadly lacking when it comes to support for families in their congregation who are affected by mental illness and this can destroy a family’s connection with their church.

Almost 6,000 people from 24 churches from four Protestant denominations were surveyed as part of the research and asked about family stresses, strengths, faith practices and desires for assistance from the congregation.

Mental health support a priority for those with mental illness

Out of those who took part, 27 percent of families were found to be affected by mental illness. They reported more problems and requested more assistance than the others, and for them, support with issues surrounding mental health was a priority.

The researchers found that those who had a member of the family with mental illness ranked help with issues like depression and mental illness as second on the list of desires for assistance from the congregation.

Difference in response “staggering”

Support for mental health issues wasn’t considered as important for those who weren’t affected by mental illness as they ranked mental health assistance from the church as 42nd on the list of priorities.

“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” said study co-author Dr. Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor.

“The data give the impression that mental illness, while prevalent within a congregation, is also nearly invisible.”

Lack of awareness and understanding

Dr Diana Garland, Dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work and a co-author of the study says the findings suggest that it amounts to lack of awareness and understanding.

“Families with mental illness stand to benefit from their involvement within a congregation, but our findings suggest that faith communities fail to adequately engage these families because they lack awareness of the issues and understanding of the important ways that they can help” said Dr Garland.

“Mental illness is not only prevalent in church communities, but is accompanied by significant distress that often goes unnoticed. Partnerships between mental health providers and congregations may help to raise awareness in the church community and simultaneously offer assistance to struggling families.”

The study is the first study to look at how mental illness of a family member influences an individual’s relationship with the church and appears on-line in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture.

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