The movement to include families impacted by mental illness in the church will be well-represented tomorrow at Saddleback Church’s Gathering on Mental Health and the Church. In honor of Amy Simpson’s appearance, we’ll rerun a guest blog she had shared with us last year. Today, we’re recognizing Dr. Matthew Stanford from Baylor University and Mental Health Grace Alliance by sharing an interview he did with us two years ago along with a video he did for Inclusion Fusion 2012.
Dr. Stanford was involved in the publication of a study with Dr. Diana Garland, Dean of the Department of Social Work at Baylor and Edward Rogers (lead author and former youth pastor) examining the relationship between mental illness and faith practice published in the journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture that we reviewed last July on this blog. He also serves as Director and Founder of Mental Health Grace Alliance, a faith-based, non-profit organization created to promote understanding in the church and provide assistance and support to individuals living with mental illness and their families.
SG: Your group at Baylor has developed an interest in studying the impact of mental illness on family involvement in churches. What led you to see this topic as a necessary and worthwhile area for research?
MS: As a person of faith and a psychologist I have often been pulled aside by fellow believers and asked questions about mental health issues or told of negative interactions between those struggling with mental illness and the church. That led me to begin taking seriously the interaction between those with mental illness and the local church. I came to Baylor in 2003 to specifically begin a line of research in the area in an attempt gain understanding and educate the church.
SG: Last year, your group published the results of a study of nearly 6,000 participants from 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations examining the impact of mental illness in a family on church involvement and spiritual practices. What in your mind were the key findings from the study?
MS: I would say that the key finding of that study was that approximately a quarter of families in the church are struggling to care for a mentally ill loved one. Those families are in significant distress and that distress has not only affected their personal relationships and daily lives but has also disrupted their ability to practice their faith and connect with God. Sadly, these families appear virtually invisible to the congregation as a whole.
SG: Was there any data to suggest that the presence of mental illness in a child or teen has more or less impact on church involvement and spiritual practices compared to mental illness in a spouse or a parent? Any hypotheses from data you’ve reviewed?
MS: While we didn’t specifically look at that question the families we surveyed were caring for a variety of loved ones suffering with mental illness including children. From what we can tell at this time there is no difference; both have a significant negative impact on the family’s spiritual practices.
SG: What additional studies is your group conducting (or planning to conduct) on the impact of mental health issues on spiritual practices? Is there research being done by other groups that churches served by Key Ministry should know about?
MS: Presently we are conducting several studies 1) the interaction of sexual assault survivors and the local church, 2) how personal spirituality or faith can be used therapeutically within a secular therapy setting and 3) the difference between the mental health needs of men and women in the church.
SG: You’ve been involved in the development of a new non-profit organization, Mental Health Grace Alliance. Can you share with our readers the mission and vision of Mental Health Grace Alliance, and some of the services and resources your organization provides?
MS: Mental Health Grace Alliance is a faith-based, non-profit organization created to promote understanding in the church and provide assistance and support to individuals living with mental illness and their families. We assist individuals and families affected by mental illness through Christ-centered counseling and support. We use a comprehensive (holistic) approach to equip individuals and families with biblical and clinical understanding and practical tools to navigate the health care system and daily life. We facilitate Christ-centered support groups, called Grace Groups, for both those living with a mental illness and their loved ones (presently in CA, FL, MA, TN, TX). We also provide training seminars and resources for churches and faith-based organizations to help leaders and professionals understand the balance between the clinical and spiritual aspects of mental illness and recovery. You can learn more at http://www.mentalhealthgracealliance.org.
SG: In addition to your work at Baylor and through Mental Health Grace Alliance, you’ve also published two books…The Biology of Sin (available as a Kindle e-book) as well as Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness (also available as an e-book). What are some of the key topics and questions you’ve addressed through your books?
MS: I think the key issue in all my writings is that the scientific or clinical aspects of mental health issues are not incompatible or inconsistent with a spiritual perspective. So when we are discussing medical or psychological treatments for Bipolar disorder we should also be discussing the spiritual impact on the individual and how we might effectively minister to them in their distress.
Matt did a fabulous talk for Inclusion Fusion on the topic of Viewing Mental Illness Through the Eyes of Faith that should be required viewing for pastors and church staff seeking to more effectively minister to families impacted by mental illness. Some of the topics Matt addressed in this relatively brief talk (20 minutes) included:
- What is a Biblical and clinical understanding/response to mental illness?
- How to recognize mental illness.
- The essential role of the church in the recovery and treatment process.
- How to respond to families dealing with mental illness.
- How to create mental health related supportive care within the church.
- Resources to help families navigate the health care system and everyday life.
Matthew S. Stanford is professor of psychology, neuroscience, and biomedical studies at Baylor University. He serves as the graduate director for the Psychology Doctoral Program. He received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Baylor in 1992. After graduating from Baylor he completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Prior to coming to Baylor in 2003 he was a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Orleans. Dr. Stanford’s research focuses primarily on the biological basis of impulsive and aggressive behavior. In addition, he has conducted psychophysiological research in a variety of patient populations including those with aggression, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke and traumatic brain injury.
Dr. Stanford’s books, The Biology of Sin (available as a Kindle e-book) as well as Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness are available at Amazon.