“In times of psychological distress, religious persons seek out help more from religious leaders than mental health professionals. Considering that mental health is a significant issue within churches that is often left unaddressed, how can pastors approach mental illness within their congregations in a way that increases hospitality and decreases stigma? ”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 6 adults in North America suffer from some form of mental illness. Mental illness is a significant and timely issue, particularly in relation to opinions about potential linkages with violent behavior. Considering that in times of psychological distress, individuals with religious affiliations seek out help more from religious leaders than trained mental health professionals, there is a continued need to more carefully address mental health in churches. Consequently, this project will explore the following questions: (A) How can church lay leaders and pastors approach mental illness within their congregations in a way that increases hospitality and decreases stigma?; (B) What more can be done for pastors and lay leaders to develop a Christian response to mental illness for North American congregations?
There are five major collaborative goals for this 36 month project: 1) Investigate and explore together the literature regarding Christian responses to mental health in congregations; 2) Engage in conversation and listen to the multicultural perspectives of the team members in order to try to understand what the major barriers are to addressing mental illness in their particular congregations; 3) Develop these ideas and move outward to ask questions about how churches and pastors can increase hospitality and decrease stigma for those with mental illness in their congregations; 4) Listen to family members of those with mental illness in congregations and assess needs to further inform the conversation through focus groups and qualitative data collection; 5) Envision tangible responses to the discoveries that are made and begin to implement some of these focused directly on the needs of pastors and their congregations. Later stages of the project will conceive of responses that will involve regional and national church leaders, academic institutions, and resources for pastors, lay leaders and congregations.