As reported by The Guardian, Lifeway Research has released a study showing that 35% of Americans and 48% of whom identify as evangelical christians believe prayer and bible study alone can cure illness and mental illnesses.
Ed Stetzer, the president of Lifeway Research said this study actually shows that churches must do a better job addressing mental illness. Churches who avoid addressing mental illness as something that needs professional medical attention are risking the lives of their congregation who look to the church for guidance in these situations.
The mega church pastor Rick Warren recently addressed this issue after his son Matthew committed suicide. Matthew suffered from borderline personality disorder and depression. Warren told CNN he has now started talking to his congregation about the stigma related to mental illness.
A 2006 study conducted by Harvard University actually showed that prayer could do more harm than good, if the patients in recovery knew they were being prayed for.
EXTRACT FROM HARVARD STUDY
Investigators enrolled 1,802 bypass surgery patients from six hospitals and randomly assigned each to one of three groups: 604 patients received intercessory prayer after being informed they may or may not receive prayers (Group 1); 597 patients did not receive prayer after being informed they may or may not receive prayer (Group 2); and 601 patients received intercessory prayer after being informed they would receive it (Group 3).
Caregivers and independent auditors comparing case reports to medical records were unaware of the patients' assignments throughout the study. The study enlisted members of three Christian groups, two Catholic and one Protestant, to provide prayer throughout the multi-year study. The researchers approached other denominations, but none were able to make the time commitments that the study required.
Some patients were told they may or may not receive intercessory prayer: complications occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1) versus 51 percent of those who did not receive prayer (Group 2). Complications occurred in 59 percent of patients who were told they would receive prayer (Group 3) versus 52 percent, who also received prayer, but were uncertain of receiving it (Group 1). Major complications and thirty-day mortality were similar across the three groups.
Churches and their leaders have a social responsibility to educate their congregation not only about mental illness but all illness and that faith alone will not cure either. Professional medical attention should be sought in all cases, and if someone is suspected of suffering from a mental illness they should be strongly encouraged to seek help. Churches have an opportunity to remove the social stigma that haunts mental illness and help eradicate once and for all.
In San Diego, California you can reach out to It’s Up to Us SD, a mental health program in San Diego County.
Those outside of San Diego can contact the National Institute of Health’s program OK2TALK.