Mental Health in Religious Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a global mental health crisis, with significant increases in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation. Religious communities are a vital source of social and emotional support for many Americans, and considerable research attests to the positive relationship between religiosity and mental health. But pandemic-related lockdowns have severely restricted religious participation and community gatherings. It is therefore crucial to understand the mental health impact of the pandemic on faith communities. Between October and December 2020, IHE Fellow Brandon Vaidyanathan and colleagues surveyed more than 1,600 members in diverse faith communities to assess the effect of the pandemic on their religiosity and well-being. In this webinar, we will present key highlights of their findings, and discuss the implications for faith leaders and for scholarship on religion and mental health.

Presentation: Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan

Dr. Scott Thumma, Hartford Seminary
Elisa Gilmore, First Baptist Church of Glenarden
Lisa Ziv, Blue Dove Foundation
Dr. Mark McMinn, George Fox University

Cosponsored with the Catholic University of America Department of Sociology. This project is supported by a grant from The John Templeton Foundation.

Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan

Brandon Vaidyanathan is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at The Catholic University of America. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame. His research examines the cultural dimensions of religious, commercial, medical, and scientific institutions and has been widely published in peer-reviewed journals. He is the author of Mercenaries and Missionaries: Capitalism and Catholicism in the Global South (Cornell University Press, 2019) and co-author of Secularity and Science: What Scientists Around the World Really Think About Religion (Oxford University Press, 2019). His ongoing research examines aesthetics and well-being among scientists, as well as mental health issues in religious communities.

Scott L. Thumma is Professor of Sociology of Religion and director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary, Hartford, Connecticut. He has published numerous research reports, website documents, articles, and chapters on religious life in the United States in addition to co-authoring three books, The Other 80 PercentBeyond Megachurch Myths and Gay Religion. He has researched and written on megachurches, evangelicalism, gay religious life, congregational studies, the rise of nondenominational churches, and the changing religious landscape. Scott is the PI for a Lilly Endowment Thriving in Ministry grant and a grant to study the impact of the pandemic on churches. He co-leads the Faith Communities Today national research project which in 2020 surveyed over 15,000 congregations. He has conducted 7 national studies of megachurches as well as a 50,000 person survey of megachurch attenders and 3 national studies of nondenominational churches.

Elisa Gilmore is a life-changing mental health awareness educator, speaker and transformation life coach whose mission is to communicate the importance of mental health to bring healing and wholeness to all. She is committed to sharing hope, healing and wholeness through transformative work and is an active ministry leader at First Baptist Church of Glenarden, where she serves as the Director of the Mental Health Support Ministry. Her unique approach equips and empowers individuals through training, coaching, workshops and seminars. Mrs. Gilmore has more than 20 years of experience in mental health education and is a sought after speaker who presented to audiences on national platforms, including television appearances on WBGR TV.  As founder of Divine ExchangesLLC, Gilmore specializes in mental health awareness to support and educate individuals, organizations and churches through life challenges, distresses and crises, including mental health, recovery and restoration coaching.   Elisa received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration from the Southern University in Louisiana.

Lisa Ziv is the chief strategy officer and interim executive director at the Blue Dove Foundation, a nonprofit organization that addresses mental illness and addiction in the Jewish community. Ziv is an innovator, author, and thought leader on the intersection of faith, family and Judaism’s connection to mental health. Her lived experience as a parent of children with mental health challenges forms the basis for her advocacy and educational work to build more supportive schools and communities. Ziv advises the National Alliance on Mental Illness FaithNet National Committee and manages an online support group of 21,000 parents of children with anxiety and depression. Her reflections on Jewish holidays and mental health were published by eJewish Philanthropy, Prizmah, and the Times of Israel. She has an MBA and advises organizations on healthcare financial management, operations and strategic planning.

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Mark McMinn is Professor Emeritus and Scholar-in-Residence in the George Fox University Graduate School of Clinical Psychology. His enduring interest throughout his career has been finding creative ways for the church and psychology to partner together in meaningful and helpful ways. Dr. McMinn is a fellow and former president of APA’s Division 36 and is board certified in clinical psychology through the American Board of Professional Psychology. He has authored a number of books, the latest of which (with his daughter, Megan Anna Neff) is, Embodying Integration: A Fresh Look at Christianity in the Therapy Room.