A new study released this week by Christian Magazine Lifeway Research shows that a massive number of people-about half of all born-again/Fundamentalist Christians and a third of all Americans- believe that mental illnesses can be cured by prayer alone. Lifeway Research polled a “random sample” of 1,001 Americans; a survey number that delivers reliable results with a tiny error margin of just 3.1 percent.
Those in the sample who considered themselves to be fundamentalist or “born again” Christians were more likely to believe that even severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia can be cured by praying and reading the bible. Overall, 35% of Americans said they think mental illnesses can be cured with no medication or therapy but by turning to religion. Respondents were asked to say yes or no the statement “With just Bible study and prayer, ALONE, people with serious mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia could overcome mental illness.”
Besides the results from that question, 68 percent of Americans surveyed said they would feel welcome in church if they had a mental illness. Study researcher Ed Stetzer said he expected such a finding, explaining “Pastors often find themselves as first responders of sorts to persons struggling with mental illness. So, churches have always been places that have cared and engaged on these issues. Thus, the fact that 2/3 would say they’d be welcome seems as expected. I imagine they’d say the same thing about a Jewish synagogue.”
Despite the large number of Americans and Evangelicals who believe that prayer alone can cure mental illness, the studies that have been performed in this field have found no significant effect from either distant intercessory prayer or personal prayer on a person’s mental or physical health as it pertains to the complete cure of an acute condition. The largest study ever performed on distant intercessory prayer found no positive effect on the health outcomes of those in the study.
Additionally, a 2001 study found a statistically insignificant negative effect on mental health outcomes after frequent personal prayer and thus concluded that personal prayer had no impact on mental health outcomes:
They concluded that there was a consistently weak but negative association between frequency of prayer and mental health outcomes that was reduced to being statistically non-signiﬁcant when social stressors were taken into account.
So far, there has been no solid evidence offered by the scientific community that proves the efficacy of either personal or intercessory prayer as it pertains to curing an acute physical or mental disease, and since the meta-analyses that have been performed thus far have shown no effect on outcomes, the belief that mental illness can be cured through prayer alone is most likely not viable.
Still, over a third of all Americans saying mental illness can be cured by prayer alone is a huge number of people. It makes one wonder what would happen if, instead of praying, all of those people spent that time volunteering at a local hospital, donating to medical societies or even doing research to find cures for a variety of illnesses. Perhaps if all the time spent on prayer was spent on tangible activities, better health outcomes would prevail.
By: Rebecca Savastio