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Black Pastors Say They Are Overwhelmed With People Coming To Them For Mental Health Care

New Study Finds Black Folks Will See Mental Health Professionals, But Their Pastor Must Agree

A new study of Black and Latino Christians has found they often turn to their pastors for mental health care and information on mental health resources. Unfortunately, those clergy reported they feel ill-equipped to offer the help their congregants need.

The study "Where Would You Go? Race, Religion, and the Limits of Pastor Mental Health Care in Black and Latino Congregations" which interviewed churchgoers in Houston, Texas, was recently published in the Journal Religions.

Lead researcher, Dan Bolger, of Rice University, told BET.com that pastors are feeling overwhelmed because the need in Black communities often is more than their abilities. Bolger said, “Church members were often open to seeing a mental health professional, but only if they were referred by their pastor. Congregants told us that they would seek their pastor first because they perceived mental health issues as highly stigmatized not only in their church but also the broader community, and they saw their pastor as uniquely qualified to help address such concerns.”

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Pastors often serve as first responders to mental health issues, but the pastors Bolger interviewed said they’re not adequately prepared and trained to do so.

Bolger explained that pastors lamented the limits of their ability to care for mentally ill members, saying, “This led to a tension within many Black churches; congregants sought out pastors because they saw them as well-equipped to provide mental health care while pastors felt overwhelmed by the high levels of need.”

Ultimately, Bolger and his co-author Pamela Prickett from the University of Amsterdam explain that mental health care providers need to connect with and equip pastors to help community members struggling with mental illness to bridge care to Black communities.

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Following a spate of high-profile deaths by suicide among Black people, discussing and treating mental health concerns has become a prominent issue.

The paper also recommended building and strengthening partnerships between churches and mental health professionals and institutions to make it likelier that people can rise above any stigma to get the help they need.

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