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New Research: Faith Leaders Play Important Role in Aiding Mental Health of Seniors

  • May 20, 2023

San Francisco — New research presented today at the American Psychiatric Association’s Annual Meeting indicates that older people with multiple chronic health conditions who are more religious are more likely to seek mental health services from a faith leader than a mental health professional.

Researcher Augustine Cassis Obeng Boateng, MPH, BSN, and his colleagues analyzed data on 11,950 participants from the Midlife in the United States Series (MIDUS) between 1995 and 2014. MIDUS, a longitudinal study, surveys family life and emotional health during the ages of 25-74. The goal of the research was to determine factors that might cause adults in search of mental health care services to turn to religious leaders rather than psychotherapists.

High religiosity in patients with multimorbidity (living with two or more chronic illnesses) was linked to a lower likelihood of seeking treatment from mental health professionals by a significant factor compared to low religiosity. Conversely, high religiosity in patients with multimorbidity increases the likelihood of seeking treatment from faith leaders compared to low religiosity. In short, when health declines, older adults are more likely to seek comfort and support from their faith community.

The authors conclude that, if equipped with mental health training, “religious and spiritual leaders could play an integral role in reducing the burden of mental illness in the United States, especially among older adults and socially marginalized groups who find religion important.”

Augustine Cassis Obeng Boateng’s co-authors in this research include Josh Sebu, Ph.D.; Ruby Lekwauwa, M.D.; Katherine Britt, Ph.D, MSN, RN; Hayoung Oh, MPH; and Benjamin Doolittle, M.D., M.Div.

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 38,000 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit

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