suicide of Matthew Warren, who fought a long battle with depression, is shining
a light on the issue of religion and mental health.
father, Rick Warren, the author of “The Purpose Driven Life” and a prominent
pastor, launched a petition "to urge educators, lawmakers, healthcare
professionals, and church congregations to raise the awareness and lower the
stigma of mental illness … and support the families that deal with mental
illness on a daily basis.”
Christian leaders also have seized the moment to call for an end to the shame
and guilt associated with mental illness, and to encourage church members to
respond with love, compassion and understanding.
need to stop hiding mental illness," Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay
Research, said in
a post on the CNN Belief Blog.
well churchgoers listen to these messages can have a substantial influence on
the lives of millions of Americans suffering from various degrees of mental
health issues, and address a glaring gap in congregational ministries,
according to a growing body of research.
studies have indicated that belief in a loving God, along with the social
support of being part of a congregation whose members care for one another,
leads to positive physical and mental health outcomes, including lower rates of
depression and anxiety and greater overall happiness.
the subject makes many within the church uncomfortable - some fear admissions
of sadness could be interpreted as spiritual weakness - mental health issues do
not stop at church doors.
than four in 10 worshipers said that within the past week they had a feeling of
the blues they could not shake off, even with the help of family and friends,
according to a 2008-2009 U.S.
Congregational Life Survey of 833 respondents. A similar
percentage said they felt at least some or a little depressed in the past week.
Some six in 10 reported feeling sad just within the last week.
in part because of the stigma attached and in part because the nature of their
illnesses makes it more difficult to be part of social groups, many of those
who could benefit from the support provided by congregations are more likely to
2010 Baylor Religion Survey found depressed people were much less likely to
attend religious services or read sacred texts.
may be even more striking is the apparent lack of concern many congregation
members show for the issues faced by others in the church.
these US CLS findings:
Four in 10 worshipers said other
congregation members rarely or never let them know "they love and care for
More than half of worshipers said their
fellow church members either once in a while or never "talked with you
about your private problems and concerns."
More than four in 10 worshipers said
non-clergy in their congregation rarely or ever even expressed interest or
concern in their well-being.
congregation should be a safe place for those who struggle, Stetzer said.
believe the church is the body of Christ—the hands and feet of Jesus—and that
means going into the darkest places and the toughest situations to bring light.
It means walking with those who are suffering, no matter what the suffering
support is a major factor that helps to prevent depression, Dr. Harold Koenig,
a prominent researcher on religion and health, said in an interview.
is needed moving forward is education, both of the nature of mental illness and
the value of reaching out and listening to those in need, Koenig and others
Warren was not able to overcome his depression, even with medical care and
spiritual support. But his painful journey may light a path for people of faith
to relieve the suffering of others in their midst, whether they struggle with
their physical or mental health.
would hope that with this event this would encourage more people to talk more
about it,” Koenig said. “Maybe events like this are wake-up calls to the
evangelical community and to others.”
This story and quiz originally appeared on the U.S. Congregational Life Survey
News & Research Updates:
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