Related Research: Living Well Initiative

The Living Well Initiative sponsors research in the area of severe mental illness, stigma, community health, and faith. Examples of published research conducted by faculty scholars and previous fellows include the following citations with abstracts:

Webb, M. (2012). Toward a theology of mental illness. Journal of Religion, Disability, & Health, 16(1), 49-73.

This research focuses on religious attitudes toward mental illness, including assumptions that mental illness may be evidence of personal sin or demonic influence. These assumptions are critiqued based upon a review of relevant Scriptural passages. A reformulation of theological conceptions of mental illness is then proposed, focusing on the following themes: heroism in frailty, freedom in finitude, complexity in disorder, and the stranger in our midst. In conclusion, the article offers potential implications of theologies describing a passable God for an understanding of human suffering in general, and the suffering in mental disorder in particular.


Webb, M., Charbonneau, A. M., McCann, R.A., & Gayle, K. R. (2011). Struggling and enduring with God, religious support, and recovery from severe mental illness.  Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(2), 1161-1176.

People with severe mental illnesses may achieve varying degrees of recovery, including symptom reduction and community integration. Research also indicates that religiosity facilitates coping with psychological disorders. In this study, we assessed the relationship between religiosity and recovery from severe mental illnesses. Self-report data were collected from 81 participants with severe mental illnesses. We measured recovery, religious support, and participants’ struggle or endurance with faith. Religious support and enduring with faith were positively associated with recovery. Struggling was negatively associated with recovery, and that relationship was mediated by religious support. Religious variables, including religious support and spiritual struggle, might affect recovery from severe mental illnesses.


Stetz, K., Webb, M., Anderson, A. J., & Zucker, D. (2011). Mental health ministry: Creating healing communities for sojourners. Journal of Religion, Disability & Health, 15(2), 153-174.

The purpose of this study was to describe the experiences of Pacific Northwest churches in developing outreach, programs, and services to persons with severe and persistent mental health issues. Eleven interviews were conducted with church leaders involved in ministry for persons coping with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI). Even in churches with established programs, evidence for mental illness stigma was found; problems were also noted between churches and mental health systems. Content analysis of interview data revealed the larger theme of sojourners in the spiritual community and these three subthemes: faith community estrangement, mental health care system estrangement, and church as setting/opportunity for healing. Findings are discussed in light of Biblical theology regarding the estrangement of God’s beloved, and the Scriptural call to embrace the sojourner in the community.


Webb, M., Stetz, K., & Hedden, K. (2008). Representation of mental illness in Christian self-help bestsellers. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 11(7), 697-717.

The present study examined messages about mental illness in 14 contemporary Christian self-help bestsellers. Content analysis revealed that most texts focused upon depression. Categories of textual units included Underlying Assumptions
Regarding Depression, Representations of Depression, Roots/Causes/Reasons for Depression, and Christian Responses to Depression. Demonic influence was the most frequently cited reason for depression. Other reasons included negative
cognitions, failure as a Christian, and negative emotions. Christian responses to depression included trusting God, religious activity, and individual willpower. Discussion of these results focused upon the problematic impact of these messages upon individuals with depression, and upon suggestions for reducing mental illness stigma in religious communities.