Some clergy afraid of mentally ill

Insufficient counselling training part of problem, says study
Lethbridge Herald
When it comes to counselling people who live with a mental illness, nearly
two-thirds said they felt capable of giving good advice. Yet close to 20 per
cent of Alberta clergy surveyed admitted they were afraid of people who are
mentally unwell.
Those are among the findings of former Lethbridge resident Austin Mardon
from the initial stage of an international study on Christian clergy members
and mental illness. Catholic priests were the first group surveyed  but
Mardon says research will expand to other denominations ‹ and to England as
Mardon, in Edmonton with the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta, says initial
results show insufficient training about mental health issues is given to
clergymen and women, at least, in the Catholic church.
³Over half the individuals in pastoral ministries in the Catholic church in
Alberta do not feel they know enough about schizophrenia to minister to the
sufferer or their family members,² he reports.
And while 78 per cent of the priests, deacons and others who replied said
they felt capable of identifying their own biases about mental illness, and
not allowing them to influence how they dealt pastorally with someone whoıs
mentally ill, 19 per cent of the ministers also admitted they were afraid
of mentally ill people, particularly those with schizophrenia. And only 27
of the churchıs priests across Alberta took the time to complete his
seven-question survey, he adds.
³Those figures are about what youıd expect to see,² Mardon says, because
thereıs not much time spent learning about mental health when the Catholic
church trains its clergy.
³They have to pick up information by chance,² he says.
One of the studyıs obvious recommendations, he says, will be to encourage
psychiatrists and other mental health-care professionals to ³reach out to
pastoral ministers of all denominations, to assist them in identifying
community resources available to their mentally ill parishioners and
First, they might tackle that fear factor.
³In many cases, they donıt need to be afraid of the person any more than
they need to be afraid of the general population,² says Mardon.
In fact, he says, people with schizophrenia are most dangerous to
themselves. About 40 per cent will attempt suicide, about one-quarter of
those successfully. But Mardon says most people with the disease can
successfully return to daily life.
About one-third of Canadians diagnosed with schizophrenia recover after a
few episodes and get on with life. Another third, like Mardon himself, can
stabilize their condition by taking daily medication.
³Itıs like diabetes,² he says. ³If you have it, you have to stay on insulin
for the rest of your life.²
The remaining third, harder to treat, may respond to group home or
institutional care.
Mardon says many schizophrenic people who return to daily activities are
anxious to explore spiritual issues, some of them attracted by the idea of a
suffering Saviour.
³They live with a lot of suffering, too,² he points out.
Still, they might not be part of the throng at midnight mass on Christmas
³In some cases, they donıt like crowds.²
In the new year, Mardon says he plans to expand the survey to other major
denominations across Alberta. And working in collaboration with researcher
Paul Hammersley at the University of Manchester, he hopes to see a parallel
study undertaken in Britain.
In Britain, he points out, heıs hoping to see a greater cross-section of
faith communities studied. Itıs a less homogenous society culturally than
³We hope to include Jewish and Muslim religious leaders.²

Austin Mardon, CM
Telephone: 1-780-378-0063
Post Office Box 1223, Main Post Office,
Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA,
T5J 2M4
Web site: