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How Christians are coupling biblical concepts with mental wellness

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Posted at 9:40 AM, Oct 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-14 12:40:14-04

The pandemic is exacerbating the challenges faith leaders are facing. According to a study from Lifeway research, 54% of protestant pastors say they have had a member of their congregation diagnosed with a severe mental illness.

But mental health experts say the bridge between the mental health community and faith leaders has narrowed, allowing for a partnership among believers and doctors.

Dr. Nii Addy, a podcaster, Yale professor, and neuroscientist, has made it his mission to show fellow Christians how science, mental health and faith go hand in hand.  

"A lot of what we do in our research is trying to understand what happens in the brain during states of anxiety, states of depression, if people are navigating through addiction," Dr. Addy said. "As I talk about that science, I've heard people say, 'Okay, that really gave me more of a sense for why my loved one is acting like this.'"

Christians across the country are finding ways to marry Biblical concepts with treatment and therapy.

Peace Amadi, a pastor's daughter, says she grew up knowing all the right verses until college.

"I had my own experiences with anxiety," Amadi said. "I had my own experiences with mild depression... and, just to put it plainly, a lot of bullying."

She turned that experience into a career as a psychology professor at a Christian university.

Psychologist Archandria Owens says she was once told her faith was a liability in psychology; now she uses Biblical concepts as a tool.  

"How do we just manifest and do our best to look at spiritual wellness as a dimension that is crucial in wellness?" Dr. Owens asked. "Our brains are so in cue into looking at what's wrong in the world because we need to be able to predict how to protect ourselves, so this spiritual practice of gratitude, really looking for what's good, changes the brain."

Dr. Addy, Amadi and Dr. Owens say they are encouraged to see a greater acceptance of mental health treatment in the religious realm, pointing to the pandemic as well as deaths by suicide among faith leaders as major turning points.

According to a Lifeway Research study, 26% percent of protestant pastors say they are dealing with their own mental health struggles.

"Even when you have faith, even when you lean into prayer, even when you're a leader, even when you're doing all the right things, there's something that we're still not exempt from," Amadi said.

Dr. Addy says more pastors are opening up about their own challenges.

"This is someone I look up to as a leader who is saying that they're working through that, that they are working through it with prayer, but they're also working through it with counseling," Dr. Addy said. 

The first line of defense in the mental health battle for many religious communities is the pastors.  

A Rice University survey of Black and Latino Christians found that most would pray or seek counsel from a pastor if they were in the midst of a mental health crisis.

The Department of Health and Human Services has partnered with churches to make sure leaders have the tools they need, including serving as a branch to mental health professionals.   

"You don't stop believing in God when you need your healing," Amadi said. "You don't stop believing in God because you're seeking a specialist. It all can work together."

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