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Pastors struggle to meet parishioners’ mental health needs, study says

Does our culture have a mental health crisis? Daniel Bolger, a doctoral candidate at Rice University thinks so.

A recent study he co-authored makes the claim that pastors find themselves not trained to handle mental issues within the congregation.

“A persistent theme across the clergy members we talked to was that there’s a level of need for mental health care they’re just unable to meet,” Bolger told Religion News Service. “Maybe it was less about the types of issues they were seeing, but more the sheer number of people who needed that type of assistance.”


To Bolger, pastors are in need of support, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, citing research showing the number of pastors who have contemplated quitting ministry. “They were feeling really overwhelmed by this before the pandemic, so we can only imagine how much worse it might be during the pandemic,” he said.


The authors go on to imply the numbers are higher in some cultures in the Church. Black and Latino people were surveyed for the study and the focus indicates there are cultural reasons for the disparity in the numbers.

Black congregants prefer to bring their difficulties to clergy because of stigma surrounding mental health issues in the broader racial and ethnic community. Latinos, meanwhile, “relied on pastoral care due to norms in their individual congregation.” The report’s authors noted that Latinos ”often attribute mental health concerns to spiritual factors.” … “Bolger also said Latino congregants did talk about mental health at church, but only in the past tense, “when someone has been healed, when someone has overcome mental illness.”


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