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Church leaders' understandings of how Christian beliefs inform mental illness identification and remediation in effected members: a scoping review.

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Introduction: Christianity is the world’s leading religion with an estimated 2.3 billion followers, with evidence of influence both in the developing world and amongst developed nations throughout the globe. Literature has demonstrated that church clergy across varying contexts and communities serve the function of mental health gatekeepers and are often the first access point for their community, particularly among people living in low socio-economic settings without adequate access to professional mental health services.However, some issues raised by previous studies were that certain Christian beliefs have been linked with promoting stigma, internalized shame and delayed help-seeking. This study aims to synthesize and map past research that investigated church leader’s representation of how Christian beliefs inform mental illness identification and remediation (referral pathways) in vulnerable church members. Method and Analysis: A scoping review was performed to gain an overview of the available evidence from literature concerning this topic. The data was screened using the PRISMA-ScR flow diagram according to the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Relevant databases were sourced for literature and a total of 11 studies were eligible for final review. Results and Discussion: Data from the literature was synthesized in table format according to: Author(s) and Year, Study Title, Aims and Objectives, Operational Definition of Concepts, Methodology, and Results. Thematic analysis was used on the data to describe the existing literature and gaps in narrative format. Four themes were identified from the data; 1) Clergy’s conceptualisation of mental illness, 2) Role of Clergy in remediation/intervention regarding suspected cases of mental health issues (referral pathways) 3) Impact of socio-cultural context, 4) Reviewed Study’s Recommendation. These themes were found to be prominent dynamics among studies that investigated clergy’s representation and treatment of mental illness. Conclusion and Recommendations: Four overarching themes were identified among studies that investigated church clergy’s representation and remediation pathways of mental illness for vulnerable church members. Future research should focus on researching the usefulness of clergy and mental health practitioner collaborations in mental health treatment, which can benefit vulnerable church members.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.