Sun | Dec 16, 2018

Jaevion Nelson | Prayer not good for mental health

Published:Saturday | July 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

I have met so many young people who are damaged and scarred because their parents sought mental-health support for them from the wrong person - a pastor rather than a trained professional.

When will we accept that no matter how often or long we pray for children with depression, bipolar mood disorder, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia, for example, we can't pray good mental health upon them?

Is it that hard to realise that the good prayer warrior who we turn to for help every so often isn't a counsellor, psychologist, therapist or psychiatrist if they are not so trained?

I know we are a deeply religious people with as many, if not more, churches per square mile on every corner as rum bars. I know we have a penchant to look up to the heavens and pray for deliverance, but we must recognise that this is not an appropriate way to treat with mental health adequately, if at all.

As Raihn McNish from Equality Youth Ja said, "The same way in which we treat physical health, we must do the same for mental health. If you found out you had an illness that could possibly be terminal if not treated, would you refuse treatment or ask your pastor for prayer? It's the same that way we must think about mental health. Pastors can miss the underlining causes of an individual's psychological issues."

Of course, prayer might give a glimmer of hope and a feeling of temporary relief - the placebo effect - but at the end of the day, mental-health issues will persist, if left untreated.


Appropriate care needed


Dr Stan Kutcher and David Venn advise in an article in The Medscape Journal of Medicine that we must take children and youth's mental health serious and seek out appropriate care for them as early as possible. They argue: "If left untreated, mental disorders can impede all aspects of health, including emotional well-being and social development, leaving young people feeling socially isolated, stigmatised, and unable to optimise their social, vocational, and interpersonal contributions to society."

It is quite sad that we are so wedded to the idea of turning to pastors and prayer warriors for these issues. Pastors are hardly ever good options to deal with mental health because you can't pray the problem away.

We hurt children and make matters worse when we take them to pastors who are barely qualified to read the Bible much less deal with mental health. Usually, they have not a clue. Only prayer, scriptures and songs.

Kutcher and Venn recommend that "all youth mental-health programmes, policies, and interventions must be based on validated, scientifically sound research"; "there needs to be immediate, increased investment in identification of early-onset mental disorders and effective early intervention programmes to deliver appropriate care to young people"; and that mental-health "programmes ... be integrated across jurisdictions - education, health, justice, community services as well as integrated into communities and schools."

I sincerely hope that the ministers of health and youth recognise the mental-health crisis that persists across the country and allocate resources to increase access to trained mental health practitioners. This is especially important for children from poorer families who cannot afford $5,000 to send their child to talk to someone for an hour when they could walk up the road to the pastor and talk for hours. Mental-health services should be accessible and the Government can neither abdicate its responsibilities and obligations in this regard nor outsource it to pastors who are only making matters worse.

- Jaevion is a human rights, economic and social justice advocate. Email feedback to and, or tweet @jaevionn.