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One-Fourth of Pastors Have ‘Personally Struggled with Mental Illness’: Lifeway Survey

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A majority of pastors in the U.S. say they have known of at least one church member who has been diagnosed with severe mental illness, according to a new Lifeway Research survey that also reveals an uptick in the percentage of pastors who say they themselves have struggled with mental illness.

The poll, released Tuesday, shows that 54 percent of Protestant pastors in the U.S. say they know of at least one church member who has been “diagnosed with a severe mental illness such as clinical depression, bipolar or schizophrenia” in the churches they have served. Nearly one in five (18 percent) pastors say they know of three to five members who fit that description, and eight percent of pastors know of six to 10.

“There is a healthy generational shift occurring as younger and middle-aged pastors are much more likely to have encountered people in church with severe mental illness than the oldest pastors,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.

“However, it is not clear whether the presence of those with difficult mental illnesses is increasing among church members or if they have simply felt more comfortable sharing their diagnosis with younger pastors,” McConnell added.

Meanwhile, the survey found a slight increase in the percentage of pastors who say they have “personally struggled with mental illness of any kind,” with 26 percent agreeing with that statement compared to 23 percent in 2014. A total of 17 percent of pastors say it was diagnosed. Pastors aged 18-44 (22 percent) are more likely to say they have struggled with mental illness and it was diagnosed than are pastors aged 45-54 (15 percent) and 65-plus (15 percent).

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have faced challenges to their mental health,” McConnell said. “More pastors today are seeking professional help as evidenced by more having been diagnosed with mental illness. Younger pastors are the most likely to say they have endured mental illness.”

A total of 68 percent of pastors say they maintain a list of experts to refer people to.

The survey involved interviews with 1,000 Protestant pastors.

Photo courtesy: Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash


Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

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