Mental Disorder & Religious Faith
In this project, I focus on the relationship between mental disorder and religious faith. Specifically, I am currently investigating when and how experiences of mental disorder can positively contribute to a person’s religious faith. The available narratives or frameworks for mental disorders play a profound role in either inhibiting or enabling someone's understanding and experience of their own mental disorder. Nuanced, theologically-informed theories of mental disorder are scarce - and those that do exist are often incomplete or misleading and damaging. I am addressing these topics through integrated theoretical and empirical work.
In Summer 2020, my research assistant and I ran a qualitative study through short-answer questionnaires and extensive interviews in which participants shared about their experiences of interactions between their mental disorder and their relationship with Christianity. This study was generously supported by a Nyenhuis grant from Hope College. In our analysis of our results, we have so far focused on three factors:
Which symptoms of mental disorders (loss of agency, sense of hopelessness, delusion, etc.) often interact positively and/or negatively with someone’s religious faith (e.g. “my sense of hopelessness drew me towards God”, “my delusions caused me to doubt God’s goodness”)
Which external resources (therapy, relationship with Christian community, Christian views on mental health, medication) often helped mediate these positive or negative interactions (e.g. “my medication helped with my symptoms as well as my ability to connect with God”, “attitudes about mental disorder in my church community undermined my faith and made my anxiety worse”).
Which components of religious faith (beliefs, experiences, relationship with God, relationship with religious community) are often involved in these positive or negative interactions (e.g. “my depression caused me to pray more”, “my mental disorder kept me from going to church”).
Generated from short-answer participant responses on the negative impact of religious faith on their guilt
Generated from short-answer participant responses on the positive impact of feelings of hopelessness on their religious faith
Generated from short-answer participant responses on the positive impact of feelings of depression on their religious faith
Building off of the results of the previous study, in Summer 2021, my research assistants and I will carry out a longitudinal, qualitative study, in which we will investigate the impact of firsthand narratives on participants' understanding of their mental disorder. We will study how people understand the biological, psychological, and (sometimes) spiritual components of their mental disorder and the effects that this may have on their experience of their mental disorder. This study is generously supported by a grant from Blueprint 1543.
In Summer 2021, I am also collaborating with a student who is pursuing some of these topics as they relate to adolescents (i.e. the relationship between mental health and religious faith in adolescents). This study is generously supported by a Nyenhuis grant from Hope College.
I am also currently working with Kent County NAMI and NAMI FaithNet in developing materials for presentation and training building off of this research for use in churches and other faith-based organizations.
Email me if you are
a church or faith-based organization interesting in learning more about this research and these materials
interested in receiving more information about potentially participating in upcoming studies
a Hope College student interested in working with me on this project in upcoming semesters
interested in hearing more about this research or in potential collaboration!