The Religious Leaders on the Front Lines of Mental Health


The Rev. Edward Cardoza estimates that the volume of calls, messages and texts from members of his St. Mark’s Episcopal Church increased 20-fold over the past year. Most read something like this: “I’m sure you’re really busy and don’t have time, but if you do, would you have time for a conversation?”

People who had been sober for 10 or 15 years worried they might start drinking again. Some mentioned suicide. Couples who rarely argued were yelling at each other.

When the church resumed in-person services June 13, a new tension emerged: surprisingly angry reactions from some members to any pandemic-related safeguards that remained in place. Other clergy he talked to have seen similar levels of acrimony.

About one in four people with mental-health concerns turn to a clergy member before seeking help from clinical professionals, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, giving faith leaders a unique window on the mental health of many Americans.

Priests, pastors, rabbis, imams and deacons have witnessed waves of anxiety, depression, fear and grief. People who never sought help before reached out needing more than spiritual support and pastoral care. In response, some churches created mental-health ministries, hired clinical social workers and held town halls staffed by professionals.



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