Dr. Harlod Koenig’s book Faith and Mental Health: Religious Resources for Healing is a most excellent contribution to the academy for various reasons. First, Dr. Koenig provides a wonderful historical layout for understanding the role that mental health has played in the religious self-understanding of people and communities beyond the purely Christian paradigm. His articulation of how psychiatric illness and mental disorders have been interpreted and treated in diverse religious, cultural and historical contexts allows the contemporary reader to discern and therefore address many of the latent misconceptions that continue to linger regarding treatment of mental illness, faith and the grounding presence of the mentally ill in our societies. Secondly, the research that Dr. Koenig makes available in Part II of his book points to the significance of empirical data in understanding the correlations between religion and mental health & illness as well as the role of religion in both perpetrating and alleviating specific types of abuse and illness. The information presented in this section is daunting partly because of what is revealed and sadly, because of what is yet to be adequately understood.
Given the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) data: 26.2% of Americans will suffer from a mental illness in a given year and 6% of the population suffers from a serious mental illness, which translates into 57.7 million adults over the age of 18. Furthermore, major depressive disorders are the leading cause of disability among adults between the ages of 25 and 42 which amounts to 6.7% of the population in a given year. (www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/numbers). Dr. Koenig’s research and the data revealed by the NIMH as well as the National Census Bureau 2005, reveals the timely and critical need for greater breadth of knowledge in the fields of religion and mental health. This book should be a must read for professionals in the fields of mental health care, pastoral care and in ministerial formation. Furthermore, while the research available in this book is invaluable, Dr. Koenig also points to the fact that much more research is required – both for the sake of duplicating and corroborating findings, for allocating and proving needed resources to provide care, as well as for pursuing other lines of thinking that will allow humanity to better understand and cope with the issues raised by religion and mental illness at all levels of society. Koenig suggests the need for more grants and funding to be made available to researchers to further the study of the effects of religion and mental health. This is a significant challenge that must also be taken up by those doing theological studies who almost always exempt themselves from gathering and analyzing the practical and critical empirical data that shed light on human experience.
Dr. Koenig’s credibility comes from his career as professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center; as well as from being the director and founder of Duke’s center for the study of Religion / Spirituality and Health. His contributions to the field of Science and Mental Health as an author and editor in chief of Science and Theology News, a monthly international newspaper, lends further credibility to his devotion to the field and practice of faith and mental health. Given Dr. Koenig’s expertise in this area, Faith and Mental Health offers the reader an excellent glossary, references and resources for professionals and newcomers alike. This book is a practical resource for health care professionals and administrators, clergy, professors, mental health counselors, directors of Faith Based Organizations (FBO), directors of formation and anyone interested across denominational bounds on the relevancy of mental health and the health and well being of the human community.
Given Dr. Koenig’s assertion that persons with mental illness challenge faith communities by providing them with opportunities to live out the faith professed (p 142), so does this review challenge the academic community to understand the effect, implications and impact that faith and mental health have on all knowing and being.