School of Behavioral Sciences
Doctor of Education in Community Care and Counseling (EdD)
Pastors and mental illness, depressed pastors, church leaders with mental illness, mental illness in the church, Christian leaders with emotional problems, suicidal pastors
Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences
Harris, Erica Elaine, "American Church Leaders’ Responses to Mental Illness" (2023). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 4329.
This phenomenological study enlightens the experience between the development of mental illness and the help-seeking of Christian church leaders. Eleven church leaders in Dallas, Texas, were asked to describe their experiences with a mental disorder as church leaders. The theory guiding this study was Heidegger’s phenomenological theory. Heidegger’s phenomenological approach was the best for exploring the lived experiences of pastors as this theory supports that a person’s experience cannot be examined separately from their world system. Three research questions focused on the occasion of a mental health episode while in the role of a pastor in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, area. Data collection for this study included a mental health survey and interviews using researcher-developed questions to examine a purposeful sampling of church leaders who had a mental health episode during their ministry. The data analysis included an interpretative phenomenological method using an idiographic, inductive, and iterative process to create and cluster experiential statements to develop personal experiential themes. The results revealed that in the context of their mental health experience, training and education did not prepare the pastors for the realities of church leadership, including themes related to the problem of stigma in the church, difficulties coping with the overwhelming stress, misunderstandings about the source of mental illness, and the transition into healing and restoration. Keywords: Christian church leaders, severe mental illness, church culture, support, and recovery