Faith leaders more likely to confront mental health issues than general population, studies indicate


WASHINGTON — Add members of the cloth to the newest list of stressful professions.

A posting this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cited recent studies showing high levels of mental illness among religious leaders. One North Carolina study said Methodist ministers were twice more likely to be depressed than the general population.

That report suggested that guilt about not being able to do enough or doubts about the call to the job contributed. Mental health experts Kimberly Konkel and Anne Mathews-Younes had another possible reason: “Vicarious trauma.”

“Bearing witness to another person’s trauma can itself be traumatic, and can activate feelings and behaviors associated with earlier traumatic experiences clergy may have had in their own lives,” they wrote.

“Vicarious trauma is as relevant to clergy as it is to other people in the helping and first-responder professions,” Konkel and Mathews-Younes said. “Many Americans turn to clergy before they turn to mental health professionals, and like other ‘first responders,’ faith leaders carry a heavy load.”

 

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