Demon or Disorder? Attitudes Toward Mental Illness in the Church

  • Steeple30% of attendees who sought help from their church for themselves or a family member because of a mental health condition reported negative interactions counterproductive to treatment.
  • Women are significantly more likely than men to report being told by their church that they don’t have a mental health disorder (37%), discouragement from their church about the use of medication for mental disorders (23%), and report negative interactions with their church (41%).
  • Reports of negative interactions from church attendees fall into three categories: abandonment or lack of involvement by the church (60%), mental disorder considered the result of demonic activity (21%), and mental disorder considered the result of a lack of faith / personal sin (19%).

  • 15% of adults who sought help from their church for a mental illness for themselves or a family member reported a weakening of faith as a result of their interaction, and for 13%, their interaction resulted in the end of their involvement with their faith.

Pretty shocking statistics? These results were reported in a study conducted by Matthew Stanford from Baylor University in 2007, published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture. You can access the content of the paper here.

If we’re going to do a better job of including families of kids with hidden disabilities such as mental health disorders in the church, we’ll need to do a better job of equipping and resourcing churches to respond effectively when those families turn to the church during times of need.

What advice would you give to churches interested in ministering more effectively to families of kids with emotional or behavioral disorders?

Updated November 21, 2014


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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2 Responses to Demon or Disorder? Attitudes Toward Mental Illness in the Church

  1. My advice? I’d start by not telling me that my child can’t be an active participant, can’t take religious training, or needs an exorcism, all things told to me about my child. I”m part of the 13% who gave up on organized religion.


    • Rob Donovan says:

      Sorry to hear that you have had this bad experience. Worked with special needs children and now with people with alzheimers and dementia. Have always met good people and families within these groups. I wonder if perhaps maybe finding a congregation with a minister who is/has more background working with a wider range of people might help. There are good ministers out there. Don’t give up your faith in yourself, family, and God.


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