How do Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy resolve medical and spiritual concepts of madness in their pastoral care?
Aim: The purpose of this research is an attempt to examine the 'black box' of religious leaders' contact with people with mental health problems in the community. Background: In the UK and elsewhere there is a growing recognition that people in psychiatric distress will often seek help from religious leaders, in addition to or in place of, consultation with medical or psychiatric care. However, we know very little about how clergy respond to people with mental health problems. If religious organisations are to play a greater role in the care of people with mental health problems, this will require a greater understanding of how religious leaders from diverse faiths and ethnic communities conceptualise and manage mental illness. Are the beliefs of clergy on mental illness and their attitudes towards the mentally ill, compatible with western psychiatric classification Are their beliefs about mental illness likely to assist or hinder people with psychiatric problems in obtaining appropriate care Should clergy play a role in mental health care at all Method: In this qualitative study using in-depth interviews I explored these questions with 32 practising clergy in the UK from a range of different Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith organisations and ethnic backgrounds. Results: In general, most clergy regardless of ethnic or religious background declare a broad support for medical and psychiatric intervention. For most clergy psychiatric intervention is compatible with religious belief. However, various clergy believe that psychiatric practice and knowledge is limited in that it fails to take account of the spiritual welfare of the individual. In addition, a number of clergy argue that western, secularist paradigms wrongly exclude the existence of supernatural phenomena in the development or expression of mental illnesses. Most lack any formal training and find dealing with mental distress perplexing and challenging. Some of the clergy's beliefs about mental illness and their attitudes towards the mentally ill are complex and often contentious the role of pastoral care in contemporary Britain and the implications of the results of this study are discussed.