Within the clinical work of mental health and substance use, there is a growing idea called Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual Model that discusses how people are more than just biological cells or rational thought. When we are happy, this may initially be because we had our favorite cup of coffee or talked to a friend, but we know this also includes the health attachments in relationships, that we have been getting enough sleep, eating enough nutritional food, have been regularly tending to our mental health, and have a strong belief in their higher power with regular faith traditions. So it is no surprise that a recent study shows a strong correlation between stronger faith belief systems with overall better mental health.
Many clinical governing bodies have had an unsure relationship with practitioners who identified with their faith tradition due to numerous unethical practices of proselytizing to their clients. This practice assumes the client is not in a good mental state and any attempts by the practitioner to sway an individual, whether for financial gain, sexual gratification, or spiritual practice is deemed unethical and potentially illegal.
Yet, research has started to show empirically that attending religious services at least weekly is associated with up to 35% reduced mortality, those who were consistent with religious service attendance were to live on average seven years longer than those who do not, and other effects such as greater success in smoking cessation, less alcohol abuse, and less illicit drug use, up to 30% less depressive episodes, and up to six times lower suicide rate for individuals. Further, studies show more healthy social relationships and better life satisfaction, and some look into if it improves anxiety as well. (VanderWeele, Religious Communities and Human Flourishing)
Churches Can Also Do Harm
This does not mean that everything is good, as certain populations such as unwed mothers, being a cultural minority, or having a background with legal problems have found an increase in depression among other problems. (VanderWeele, Religious Communities and Human Flourishing) If this statistic ends up being true across culture, age, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, and everything in between, then one concern is if we are making church accessible to individuals and families. Some examples of this could include:
- Mothers and/or children who struggle with social anxiety or separation anxiety disorders that send their children to youth group on Sunday morning, are they not able to benefit from that decreased depression rate?
- Specifically with regards to mental illness, does your church account for individuals who have been sexually assaulted and whose trauma symptoms become unbearable in loud rooms that are dark like a church worship center?
- Will your church’s children who struggle with ADHD be overly stimulated in the children’s room because of the design choices you made that lead to them having a higher rate of suicide?
- Should adults with Downs Syndrome who do not drive to church and cannot access (read: keep up with) your church’s neurotypical sermons be left without an option and therefore suffer more?
I genuinely believe that the Church plays a huge role in the lives of everyone, including those with mental illness. That research is showing positive benefits simply is a strong indication we need to make sure we are not excluding them, though some estimates indicate this population is the largest missed demographic in America. May you prayerfully consider what your church is doing to further the cause of Christ in this population in your community, so that you may serve with open eyes, ears, and hearts to bring the hope of Jesus through redemption and grace?