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Tuesday, September 23 2014

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GleaningsGleanings

September 23, 2014

1 in 4 Pastors Have Struggled with Mental Illness, Finds LifeWay and Focus on the Family

Family ministry has LifeWay Research examine how well (or not well) churches address mental health.
1 in 4 Pastors Have Struggled with Mental Illness, Finds LifeWay and Focus on the Family

[Updated with Ed Stetzer quotes]

Your pastor is just as likely to experience mental illness as any other American, according to a LifeWay Research survey commissioned by Focus on the Family.

Nearly 1 in 4 pastors (23 percent) acknowledge they have “personally struggled with mental illness,” and 12 percent of those pastors said the illness had been diagnosed, according to the poll (infographics below). One in four U.S. adults experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Recent deaths by suicide of high-profile pastors’ children, including Rick Warren’s son Matthew and Joel Hunter's son Isaac, have prompted increased attention to mental illness from pastors’ pulpits and pens. Warren launched “The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church” this past spring. High-profile pastors, including NewSpring Church pastor Perry Noble, have publicly documented their struggles with mental illness.

“Here’s what we know from observation: If you reveal your struggle with mental illness as a pastor, it’s going to limit your opportunities,” Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, told CT. “What happens is pastors who are struggling with mental illness tend not to say it until they are already successful. So Perry Noble, running a church of 30,000 plus, just last year says ‘I have severe depression.’”

“We have to break the stigma that causes people to say that people with mental illness are just of no value,” he added. “These high-profile suicides made it okay to talk about, but I think Christians have been slower than the population at large to recognize what mental illness is, let alone what they should do."

The majority of pastors (66 percent) still rarely or never talk about mental illness in sermons or before large groups, the survey found. About one-fourth of pastors bring up mental illness several times a year, and 7 percent say they tackle it once a month or more.

Image: LifeWay Research

Struggling laypeople wish their churches dealt with the issue more; 59 percent of respondents with a mental illness want their church to talk more openly about it, as do 65 percent of their family members.

“Our research found people who suffer from mental illness often turn to pastors for help,” Stetzer noted in a news release. “But pastors need more guidance and preparation for dealing with mental health crises. They often don’t have a plan to help individuals or families affected by mental illness, and miss opportunities to be the church.”

Other “key disconnects” uncovered by the study:

  • Two-thirds of pastors (68 percent) say their church maintains a list of local mental health resources for church members. But few families (28 percent) are aware those resources exist.
  • Only a quarter of churches (27 percent) have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness, according to pastors. And only 21 percent of family members are aware of a plan in their church.
  • Few churches (14 percent) have a counselor skilled in mental illness on staff, or train leaders how to recognize mental illness (13 percent), according to pastors.

The disconnect isn’t because of a lack of compassion. Most pastors (74 percent) say they aren’t reluctant to get involved with those with acute mental illnesses, and nearly 60 percent have provided counseling to people who were later diagnosed.

Image: LifeWay Research

Instead, pastors can feel overwhelmed at times with how to properly respond to the mental health needs of members of their congregation; 22 percent said they were reluctant to do more because it took “too much time.”

“Pastors are trained for spiritual struggle. They’re not trained for mental illness,” Stetzer told CT. “And so, what they will often do is pass someone off. I don’t think what that 20 percent says is ‘Forget you,’ but ‘I can’t handle this.’”

The silence at church can lead to a reluctance to share, Atlanta-based psychiatrist Michael Lyles told LifeWay. “The vast majority of [my evangelical Christian patients] have not told anybody in their church what they were going through, including their pastors, including small group leaders, everybody,” he said in the release.

In fact, 10 percent of the 200 respondents with mental illness said they have switched churches after a church’s poor response to them, and another 13 percent stopped going altogether or couldn’t find a church.

But more than half of regular churchgoers with mental illness said they stayed where they were, and half also said that their church has been supportive. One way churches can be supportive, Stetzer suggested to CT, is regular meetings between pastoral staff and the person suffering from mental illness, even as the individual continues to receive consistent medical treatment.

“The Bible is filled with people who struggled with suicide, or were majorly depressed or bi-polar,” said Focus on the Family pyschologist Jared Pingleton in the LifeWay release. “David was totally bi-polar. Elijah probably was as well. They are not remembered for those things. They are remembered for their faith.”

Researchers focused on three groups:

They surveyed 1,000 senior Protestant pastors about how their churches approaches mental illness. Researchers then surveyed 355 Protestant Americans diagnosed with an acute mental illness—either moderate or severe depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia. Among them were 200 church-goers.

A third survey polled 207 Protestant family members of people with acute mental illness.

Researchers also conducted in-depth interview with 15 experts on spirituality and mental illness.

LifeWay's full release is copied below.

CT frequently addresses mental health, including how pastors can guard against mental illness, the spiritual side of mental illness, how Facebook can affect your mental health, and how nothing, not even suicide, can separate people from the love of God. CT also covered Saddleback Church senior pastor Rick Warren’s mental health ministry launch after his son Matthew took his own life in 2013.

-----

Mental Illness Remains Taboo Topic for Many Pastors

By Bob Smietana

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – One in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many look to their church for spiritual guidance in times of distress.But they're unlikely to find much help on Sunday mornings.

Most Protestant senior pastors (66 percent) seldom speak to their congregation about mental illness.

That includes almost half (49 percent) who rarely (39 percent) or never (10 percent), speak about mental illness. About 1in 6 pastors (16 percent) speak about mental illness once a year. And about quarter of pastors (22 percent) are reluctant to help those who suffer from acute mental illness because it takes too much time.

Those are among the findings of a recent study of faith and mental illness by Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, co-sponsored by Focus on the Family, was designed to help churches better assist those affected by mental illness.

Researchers looked at three groups for the study.

They surveyed 1,000 senior Protestant pastors about how their churches approaches mental illness. Researchers then surveyed 355 Protestant Americans diagnosed with an acute mental illness—either moderate or severe depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia. Among them were 200 church-goers.

A third survey polled 207 Protestant family members of people with acute mental illness.

Researchers also conducted in-depth interview with 15 experts on spirituality and mental illness.

The study found pastors and churches want to help those who experience mental illness. But those good intentions don’t always lead to action.

"Our research found people who suffer from mental illness often turn to pastors for help," said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research.

"But pastors need more guidance and preparation for dealing with mental health crises. They often don’t have a plan to help individuals or families affected by mental illness, and miss opportunities to be the church."

A summary of findings includes a number of what researchers call ‘key disconnects’ including:

Only a quarter of churches (27 percent) have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness according to pastors.And only 21 percent of family members are aware of a plan in their church. Few churches (14 percent) have a counselor skilled in mental illness on staff, or train leaders how to recognize mental illness (13 percent) according to pastors. Two-thirds of pastors (68 percent) say their church maintains a list of local mental health resources for church members. But few families (28 percent) are aware those resources exist. Family members (65 percent) and those with mental illness (59 percent) want their church to talk openly about mental illness, so the topic will not be a taboo. But 66 percent of pastors speak to their church once a year or less on the subject.

That silence can leave people feeling ashamed about mental illness, said Jared Pingleton, director of counseling services at Focus on the Family. Those with mental illness can feel left out, as if the church doesn’t care. Or worse, they can feel mental illness is a sign of spiritual failure.

"We can talk about diabetes and Aunt Mable’s lumbago in church—those are seen as medical conditions,” he said. “But mental illness--that’s somehow seen as a lack of faith."

Most pastors say they know people who have been diagnosed with mental illness. Nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) have counseled people who were later diagnosed.

And pastors themselves aren’t immune from mental illness. About a quarter of pastors (23 percent), say they’ve experienced some kind of mental illness, while 12 percent say they received a diagnosis for a mental health condition.

But those pastors are often reluctant to share their struggles, said Chuck Hannaford, a clinical psychologist and president of HeartLife Professional Soul-Care in Germantown, Tennessee. He was one of the experts interviewed for the project.

Hannaford counsels pastors in his practice and said many – if they have a mental illness like depression or anxiety—won’t share that information with the congregation.

He doesn't think pastors should share all the details of their diagnosis. But they could acknowledge they struggle with mental illness.

"You know it’s a shame that we can’t be more open about it,” he told researchers. “But what I’m talking about is just an openness from the pulpit that people struggle with these issues and it’s not an easy answer."

Those with mental illness can also be hesitant to share their diagnosis at church. Michael Lyles, an Atlanta-based psychiatrist, says more than half his patients come from an evangelical Christian background.

"The vast majority of them have not told anybody in their church what they were going through, including their pastors, including small group leaders, everybody," Lyle said.

Stetzer said what appears to be missing in most church responses is "an open forum for discussion and intervention that could help remove the stigma associated with mental illness."

"Churches talk openly about cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and other health conditions – they should do the same for mental illness, in order to reduce the sense of stigma," Stetzer said.

Researchers asked those with mental illness about their experience in church.

A few – (10 percent)—say they’ve changed churches because of how a particular church responded to their mental illness. Another 13 percent ether stopped attending church (8 percent) or could not find a church (5 percent). More than a third, 37 percent, answered, “don’t know,” when asked how their church’s reaction to their illness affected them. Among regular churchgoers with mental illness, about half (52 percent) say they have stayed at the same church. Fifteen percent changed churches, while 8 percent stopped going to church, and 26 percent said, “Don’t know.” Over half, 53 percent, say their church has been supportive. About thirteen percent say their church was not supportive. A third (33 percent) answered, “don’t know” when asked if their church was supportive.

LifeWay Research also asked open-ended questions about how mental illness has affected people’s faith. Those without support from the church said they struggled.

“My faith has gone to pot and I have so little trust in others,” one respondent told researchers.

“I have no help from anyone,” said another respondent.

But others found support when they told their church about their mental illness.

“Several people at my church (including my pastor) have confided that they too suffer from mental illness,” said one respondent. “Reminding me that God will get me through and to take my meds,” said another.

Mental illness, like other chronic conditions, can feel overwhelming at times, said Pingleton. Patients can feel as if their diagnosis defines their life. But that’s not how the Bible sees those with mental illness, he said.

He pointed out that many biblical characters suffered from emotional struggles. And some, were they alive today, would likely be diagnosed with mental illness.

“The Bible is filled with people who struggled with suicide, or were majorly depressed or bi-polar, he said. “David was totally bi-polar. Elijah probably was as well. They are not remembered for those things. They are remembered for their faith.”

LifeWay Research’s study was featured in a two-day radio broadcast from Focus on the Family on September 18 and 19. The study, along with a guide for pastors on how to assist those with mental illness and other downloadable resources, are posted at ThrivingPastor.com/MentalHealth.

LifeWay Research also looked at how churches view the use of medication to treat mental illness, about mental and spiritual formation, among other topics. Those findings will be released later this fall.

Methodology:
LifeWay Research conducted 1,000 telephone surveys of Protestant pastors May 7-31, 2014. Responses were weighted to reflect the size and geographic distribution of Protestant churches. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

LifeWay Research conducted 355 online surveys July 4-24, 2014among Protestant adults who suffer from moderate depression, severe depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia. The completed sample includes 200 who have attended worship services at a Christian church once a month or more as an adult.

LifeWay Research conducted 207 online surveys July 4-20, 2014 among Protestant adults who attend religious services at a Christian church on religious holidays or more often and have immediate family members in their household suffering from moderate depression, severe depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia.

Posted by: Dr. Dan L. Boen AT 01:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, September 17 2014
MedlinePlus Logo

Blood Test Spots Adult Depression: Study

It's as accurate as current methods, but can also confirm recovery, researchers contend
URL of this page: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_148403.html (*this news item will not be available after 12/15/2014)

 
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 HealthDay Logo
HealthDay news image

TUESDAY, Sept. 16, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new blood test is the first objective scientific way to diagnose major depression in adults, a new study claims.

The test measures the levels of nine genetic indicators (known as "RNA markers") in the blood. The blood test could also determine who will respond to cognitive behavioral therapy, one of the most common and effective treatments for depression, and could show whether the therapy worked, Northwestern University researchers report.

Depression affects nearly 7 percent of U.S. adults each year, but the delay between the start of symptoms and diagnosis can range from two months to 40 months, the study authors pointed out.

"The longer this delay is, the harder it is on the patient, their family and environment," said lead researcher Eva Redei, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and physiology at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

"Additionally, if a patient is not able or willing to communicate with the doctor, the diagnosis is difficult to make," she said. "If the blood test is positive, that would alert the doctor."

The study, published online Sept. 16 in Translational Psychiatry, with funding from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and the Davee Foundation, established the test's effectiveness with 32 adults who were diagnosed as depressed and 32 nondepressed adults. All of the study participants were between 21 and 79 years old.

The test works by measuring the blood concentration of the RNA markers. A cell's RNA molecules are what interpret its genetic code and then carry out those instructions from DNA. After blood is drawn, the RNA is isolated, measured and compared to RNA levels expected in a nondepressed person's blood.

Redei's team administered the blood test to all 64 participants in the study. Then, after 18 weeks of face-to-face or phone therapy for those participants with depression, the test was repeated on 22 of them.

Among the depressed participants who recovered with therapy, the researchers identified differences in their RNA markers before and after the therapy. Meanwhile, the concentration of RNA markers of patients who remained depressed still differed from the original results of the nondepressed patients.

Three of the RNA markers in the adults who recovered remained a little different from those who were never depressed, indicating the possibility that these markers might show a susceptibility to depression, the authors noted.

Additionally, if the levels of five specific RNA markers line up together, that suggests that the patient will probably respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, Redei said. "This is the first time that we can predict a response to psychotherapy," she added.

The blood test's accuracy in diagnosing depression is similar to those of standard psychiatric diagnostic interviews, which are about 72 percent to 80 percent effective, she said.

The findings were welcomed by one mental health expert.

"The mental health profession has, for decades, been seeking an objective measure for detecting major psychiatric disorders," said Dr. Glen Elliott, chief psychiatrist and medical director of the Children's Health Council in Palo Alto, Calif. "That the authors seem to have found a measure in such a small sample that appears to be sensitive to a specific treatment -- and a psychological intervention at that -- is striking if it holds up."

However, he noted that the small number of study participants means that it is too soon to know the significance of the findings or what the drawbacks of the test could be.

"It is too early to tell how a test of this nature -- even if proven reliable, sensitive and specific -- would be best used in a clinical setting," Elliott said. But he said the findings fit into the larger effort to personalize diagnoses and treatments based on biological data from patients.

"It is an exciting possibility that could, in theory, greatly enhance treatment efficacy and efficiency," Elliott said. "However, especially in psychiatry, we are still a long way from having a reliable product that will accomplish those goals."

The new blood test is not yet available because additional studies with large groups of people must first confirm its accuracy and effectiveness before it can be considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval.

Depending on funding, that could take several years, Redei said. If approved, the blood test's costs would be "in the range of other specialty tests," she said.

SOURCES: Eva Redei, Ph.D., David Lawrence Stein Research Professor of Psychiatric Diseases Affecting Children and Adolescents, Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; Glen Elliott, Ph.D., M.D., chief psychiatrist and medical director, the Children's Health Council, emeritus professor of clinical psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, and professor of clinical psychiatry, Stanford School of Medicine, Calif.; Sept. 16, 2014, Translational Psychiatry, online

HealthDay

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Page last updated on 17 September 2014
Posted by: Dr. Dan L. Boen AT 12:20 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, September 15 2014
 
 
 
I Didn't Marry My Best Friend
Shutterstock

At many weddings these days, whether on picturesque hillsides or at funky warehouses or in swanky ballrooms, newly minted husbands and wives proudly declare to friends and family, “I married my best friend.”

If you attended a wedding this summer, you likely heard the phrase, now so standard in romantic rhetoric that we forget it’s not part of the traditional ceremony. “I married my best friend” appears in vows, program dedications, toasts, and other aww-inducing moments (not to mention the cards, frames, cufflinks, wine glasses, and other Etsy-inspired wares that attend modern weddings).

The sentiment, repeated in Facebook posts on anniversaries, is shorthand for the special relationship with someone we are comfortable with, who listens, loves, and encourages. From secular folks to Christians who firmly believe that God sent them the one, nearly all the married people I know are “so blessed” (or “lucky”) to get to spend their lives wedded to their best friends.

Even if couples don’t announce that they’re marrying their best friend, many newlyweds live out this philosophy, dropping out of the friend-making game once they have a ring on their finger. Sociologists find that these days, we typically form our most meaningful friendships prior to age 28. Not coincidentally, that’s also the average age we get married.

Marrying your best friend is enough of a cultural expectation that if I admit I didn’t, people might pity me. But here’s the secret: I’m actually the lucky one. I have a husband who isn’t my best friend. And I have a best friend whom I’m not married to. They play different roles in my life, and I need them both.

One Person Can’t Meet All Your Needs

For Christians, marriage is a relationship set apart, wherein we assume the cares and concerns of our spouse (1 Cor. 7:32–35; Eph. 5:22–33) in a way that supersedes any other friendship. Of course married people find their most significant relationship in their husband or wife—but that doesn’t equate to being BFFs.

I worry that the saying “I married my best friend” conflates the two types of relationships, distorting our views of both.

My marriage remains my priority... But without my friends, my relationship with my husband—and with God—would suffer.

Researchers have already noticed the trend: People increasingly expect their husbands or wives to meet all their social and emotional needs. The phrase implies that, since married people have each other, they don’t have best friends anymore and don’t need them. And it exaggerates the risks young couples already face: setting up unhealthy expectations, looking to each other as the sole source of fulfillment. It also relegates best friends to the realm of singleness.

Making friends in your late 20s and beyond is a whole different game. Not only are there fewer opportunities to meet people, there are also fewer people to meet, since married folks tend to pull themselves off the friendship market. Plenty of young couples dedicate more time to catching up on their Netflix queue than seeing their neighbors, coworkers, and old buddies. My husband and I have been guilty, and so have plenty of our friends. They update Facebook about spending yet another weekend in, joking about becoming “a boring old married couple.”

And yet friends can actually support—not detract from—our marriages. Psychology journalist Carlin Flora writes in her book Friendfluence:

Putting your best self forward for new friends allows you to shine and to see your partner through new eyes as she shines, too. Maintaining older mutual friendships also strengthens the bond between long-term partners: Having people around who think of the two of you as a unit, who admire your relationship, and who expect you to stay together can sustain you through times of doubt or distance.

 

When I got married, I knew I didn’t want us to become one of those couples who stopped making friends or fell out of touch. Maybe it’s because I knew I couldn’t rely on my husband, who is in the Army, to always be there to meet my needs. Or maybe it’s because I have really incredible friends, whom I’d much rather see Twilight with or ask fashion advice from than my spouse.

Don’t get me wrong: My marriage remains my priority, the place where God has done the most to reveal the gospel to me. But without my friends, my relationship with my husband—and with God—would suffer. I gain much from being around others and receiving their perspectives and their prayers. Time spent with friends also keeps me from idolizing my husband as “my everything,” a habit many married people struggle to resist.

Making Friendship a Priority

I want to intentionally be open to the multiple relationships God will use to work in my life and the many opportunities I may have in others’. But those kinds of relationships don’t happen by accident. Here’s where friendship is like marriage: It takes work.

On her sitcom The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling declares, “A best friend isn’t a person. It’s a tier.” I’m in her camp. I have a best friend from growing up, a best friend from college, and others from my early 20s. It’d be easy for these relationships to fizzle out, so I make it a priority to visit, even when it requires sacrifice, and to regularly text, call, and write in between.

We moved around a lot when I was growing up. Always the new girl in school, I think back to a note my mom placed in my lunchbox: “To make a friend, you have to be a friend.” Decades later, I’ve found it still takes initiative and effort to sustain friendships. If we look to Jesus as an example, he selected friends to invest in. He had a best friend (John) and a best friend tier (the disciples). He says to them in John 15:12–15 (ESV):

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

Verse after Bible verse speaks of the “sweetness” (Prov. 27:9, ESV) and value of faithful friends. God wouldn’t have us give up these relationships for marriage, but continue to sharpen (Prov. 27:17) and grow one another in this special context.

We regularly talk about upholding and enhancing marriage and family life for their gospel witness, as we should. I’d like us to start doing the same with friendship. We need friends not only for our health, careers, and happiness, but more importantly, for the way they witness to our siblinghood in Christ. And from the meaningful ties of friendship often come opportunities to introduce others to Jesus, the one who calls us his friends in the first place (John 15:15).

I didn’t marry my best friend. Instead, I married my husband, with all my best friends beside me to celebrate. It was the happiest day of my life. I got—and still get—to have both.

Kate Shellnutt is associate editor of Her.meneutics, CT’s women’s site.

 
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I Didn’t Marry My Best Friend
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