Youth Pastors Regularly Encounter Mental Illness, Yet Feel Ill-Equipped to Help, Study Finds

Almost all pastors who deal with adolescents will encounter a mental health and/or substance abuse issue among their congregation and can serve as a valuable source of guidance, yet only a quarter of them feel that they are qualified to recognize problems and help these troubled youth.

This finding comes from a study carried out by researchers at Baylor University who surveyed a broad scope of youth and college pastors across Texas.

The survey found almost 80 percent of youth pastors worked with at least one adolescent a year whom they knew or at least suspected had a mental health issue. However, fewer felt prepared for these situations; about 50 percent reported having some training related to mental illness, while only 26 percent felt qualified to work with young people dealing with a mental problem.

Many of these pastors did refer their adolescents to other professionals; 76 percent referred people to Christian counselors, 51 percent to a psychologist, and 34 percent to a psychiatrist. The pastors felt that a lack of connections was the biggest barrier in preventing them from working with mental health professionals with more frequency.

“Youth and college pastors want to get involved, which is a very positive sign,” said lead author Matthew Stanford, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor. “They could be a key group that can help build a bridge between the psychiatric and religious communities.”

To read about APA’s efforts at bringing together psychiatry and faith, see the Psychiatric News article “APA Hosts Meeting to Build Bridges Between Faith, Mental Health Communities.” You can also read APA President Paul Summergrad, M.D.’s column, “Psychiatry and the Faith Community.”

Leadership of the Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership gather after last month’s Steering Committee meeting at APA headquarters. From left: Paul Summergrad, M.D., Annelle Primm, M.D., Ginny Thornburgh, Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, M.Div., Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., and Paul Burke.

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