In a study of Christian church members who approached their church for help with a personal or family member's diagnosed mental illness, researchers found that more than 32 percent were told by their pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness.
The problem was solely spiritual in nature, they were told.
Here's the thing: Other studies have found that clergy, and not psychologists or other mental health experts, are the most common source of help sought in times of psychological distress.
"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 study leader Matthew Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Texas. "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."
The results, based on surveys of 293 individuals, were published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture.
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, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, prior to approaching their local church for assistance.