Patterns and Correlates of Contacting Clergy for Mental Disorders in the United States


  • Philip S. Wang,

  • Patricia A. Berglund,

  • Ronald C. Kessler

  • The National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) is a collaborative epidemiologic investigation of the prevalences, causes, and consequences of psychiatric morbidity and comorbidity in the United States supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH46376, R01 MH49098, and R01 MH52861) with supplemental support from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (through a supplement to MH46376) and the W.T. Grant Foundation (90135190), Ronald C. Kessler, Principal Investigator. Collaborating NCS sites and investigators are: The Addiction Research Foundation (Robin Room), Duke University Medical Center (Dan Blazer, Marvin Swartz), Harvard Medical School (Richard Frank, Ronald Kessler), Johns Hopkins University ( James Anthony, William Eaton, Philip Leaf), the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry Clinical Institute (Hans-Ulrich Wittchen), the Medical College of Virginia (Kenneth Kendler), the University of Miami (R. Jay Turner), the University of Michigan (Lloyd Johnston, Roderick Little), New York University (Patrick Shrout), SUNY Stony Brook (Evelyn Bromet), and Washington University School of Medicine (Linda Cottler, Andrew Heath). Preparation of this report was also supported by an NIMH Mentored Research Scientist Development Award to Dr. Wang (K01 MH01651) and a NIMH Research Scientist Award to Dr. Kessler (K05 MH00507). A complete list of all NCS publications along with abstracts, study documentation, interview schedules, and the raw NCS public use data files can be obtained directly from the NCS homepage by using the URL:


Objective. To present nationally representative data on the part played by clergy in providing treatment to people with mental disorders in the United States.

Data Sources. The National Comorbidity Survey (NCS), a nationally representative general population survey of 8,098 respondents ages 15–54.

Study Design. Cross-sectional survey

Data Collection. A modified version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview was used to assess DSM-III-R mental disorders. Reports were obtained on age of onset of disorders, age of first seeking treatment, and treatment in the 12 months before interview with each of six types of professionals (clergy, general medical physicians, psychiatrists, other mental health specialists, human services providers, and alternative treatment providers).

Principal Findings. One-quarter of those who ever sought treatment for mental disorders did so from a clergy member. Although there has been a decline in this proportion between the 1950s (31.3 percent) and the early 1990s (23.5 percent), the clergy continue to be contacted by higher proportions than psychiatrists (16.7 percent) or general medical doctors (16.7 percent). Nearly one-quarter of those seeking help from clergy in a given year have the most seriously impairing mental disorders. The majority of these people are seen exclusively by the clergy, and not by a physician or mental health professional.

Conclusions. The clergy continue to play a crucial role in the U.S. mental health care delivery system. However, interventions appear to be needed to ensure that clergy members recognize the presence and severity of disorders, deliver therapies of sufficient intensity and quality, and collaborate appropriately with health care professionals.