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How Faith Communities Address Mental Illness

After Matthew Warren, son of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide in the spring of 2013, Rick and his wife Kay teamed up with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County California and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to launch an education and advocacy initiative that the Warrens hope will help churches become more responsive to those among them with mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that about 6 percent of Americans have a serious mental illness.

According to a 2014 study by LifeWay Research, just 27 percent of Christian churches have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness even though some 60 million Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition every year. The LifeWay study found that 14 percent of churches have a skilled mental illness counselor on staff or have trained their staff to recognize mental illness, but 22 percent of responding church clergy said they are reluctant to help parishioners with mental illness because of the time commitment such help requires. 

Only 27 percent of Christian congregations said they have a plan in place to help families affected by mental illness, yet the Lifeway study, as well as a separate Baylor University study, revealed that many people approach clergy about their mental distress before consulting with health care professionals. 

Given how widespread mental health issues are in the United States, what role can faith communities play, if any, in supporting and healing? To help explore the data and address the questions around the relationship of faith to mental health and the role of faith communities in addressing mental health issues, ReligionLink, an online resource for religion news reporters sponsored by Religion Newswriters Association, has published a source guide on mental health. The page includes background, recent developments and links to a range of resources, studies and experts that address the issue of mental health and highlight the initiatives and roles America’s diverse faith communities have embraced. Also see the 8-minute news video prepared for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly that explores the ministry to the mentally ill work of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Atlanta, and read our featured reflection on Psalm 146, “Happy are Those Whose Help Is the God of Jesse,” centered around nurturing, healing and love in the midst of pain and suffering.

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