The mental health of parishioners and pastors is an increasing concern among churches, who are inundated with more demand than they can meet, alongside generally rising depression and suicide rates. However, religious communities often find the formal mental health system to conflict with their worldviews, amidst a general history of skepticism between psychiatry and religion. Partnerships have started to develop between religious organizations and health practitioners to address community health. However, many of these scientist-practitioners subtly presuppose that the religious institution lacks expertise in providing mental health support, which the professionals then deliver without awareness of the institution’s existing practices and culture.
Lacking is a more intellectually humble and sustainable approach that builds on the mental health wisdom embedded within the religious institution. Our church-health partnership has adopted such a participatory approach. Together, we found evidence that the church already had a potent form of mental health support, involving unconditional love, a family atmosphere, and service to others. We also found prevention targets — including isolation, spiritual guilt, and social determinants of mental health — facing members at-risk for depression and suicide and yet unlikely to engage clinics.
This project will enable us to publish this research and to disseminate it broadly in order to prepare the ground for our long-range goal of designing, implementing, and scaling-up a parishioner-staffed depression prevention program to a 1.5-million-member international Pentecostal church organization, building on the church’s own therapeutic culture, structure, and practices. Concrete outputs include a peer-reviewed research paper, dissemination, and presentations to the religious and scientist-practitioner communities.