The Gap in Mental Health Service Utilization Among United Methodist Clergy with Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms


Clergy are tasked with multiple interpersonal administrative, organizational, and religious responsibilities, such as preaching, teaching, counseling, administering sacraments, developing lay leader skills, and providing leadership and vision for the congregation and community. The high expectations and demands placed on them put them at an increased risk for mental distress such as depression and anxiety. Lit‑tle is known about whether and how clergy, helpers themselves, receive care when they experience mental distress. All active United Methodist Church (UMC) clergy in North Carolina were recruited to take a survey in 2019 comprising validated depression and anxiety screeners and questions about mental health service utili‑zation. Bivariate and Poisson regression analyses were conducted on the subset of participants with elevated depressive and anxiety symptoms to determine the extent of mental health service use during four different timeframes and the relationship between service use and sociodemographic variables. A total of 1,489 clergy partici‑pated. Of the 222 (15%) who had elevated anxiety or depressive symptoms or both, 49.1% had not ever or recently (in the past two years) seen a mental health profes‑sional. Participants were more likely to report using services currently or recently (in the past two years) if they were younger, had depression before age 21, or "very often" felt loved and cared for by their congregation. The rate of mental health ser‑vice use among UMC clergy is comparable to the national average of service use by US adults with mental distress. However, it is concerning that 49% of clergy with elevated symptoms were not engaged in care. This study points to clergy subgroups to target for an increase in mental health service use. Strategies to support clergy and minimize mental health stigma are needed.

Journal of Religion and Health