Mental Health and Homeschooling

Mental illness is a serious problem that can impact homeschoolers as much as it impacts the members of any other subculture.

145_mental_health_hiv26% of adults — about one out of every four — in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. This is about 57.7 million people. About 6% of of adults — 1 in 17 — suffer from a particularly serious mental illness (source).

Mental illness is the second leading cause of disability worldwide. (source).

But despite being so common, the pressing matter of mental health doesn’t get talked about much. There’s a stigma that hangs over them.

Mental illnesses are like any other illnesses: they have causes that arise from the human body, from physical and chemical make-up as well as experienced trauma. While people who experience mental illness are often denigrated as “crazy,” the fact is that what we consider “crazy” is a powerful, often crippling, and most importantly real disease.

Like any and all groups of children, teenagers, and adults, many homeschool students will be born with, develop, or experience mental illnesses or disorders. 1 out of every 10 children or adolescents has a serious mental health problem, and another 10% have mild to moderate problems. These problems are going to exist among homeschool students — your own children perhaps, or friends of your children at the local homeschool co-op. Homeschoolers are not immune to mental illness any more than they are immune to cancer or the flu.

Mental health problems — when not managed under care and guidance — can lead to tragic results, including suicide, self-injury, substance abuse, inability to function independently or at a job, inability to successfully complete school, and health problems. Low-income families and families of color experience particular difficulty getting necessary services for addressing mental health issues.

Sometimes the unique circumstances surrounding certain homeschooling subcultures may give rise to or significantly exacerbate mental illness. Sometimes abuse and neglect may give rise to or significantly exacerbate mental illness. And sometimes homeschooling will have nothing to do with the mental illness or disorder a student may struggle with; it may just be the biological and chemical make-up of that person.

There are many reasons why a homeschool student might suffer from mental illness. What is absolutely essential is that the student’s family, friends, and homeschooling community are equipped to help and empower that student with the resources and tools necessary for managing the illness. In the same way that family, friends, and communities ought to support someone diagnosed with any other disease (such as cancer), they ought to support someone diagnosed with a mental disease.

Homeschool students (and later alumni) who are raised in conservative Christian homeschool communities are particularly at risk for mental illness if only for one reason: conservative Christians are statistically proven to be reticent towards acknowledging the reality of mental illness and the importance of mental health management. While society in general has a stigma against mental health awareness, that stigma is markedly pronounced within conservative Christianity.

In his 2008 Baylor University study, Matthew Stanford found the following among church attendees with professionally diagnosed mental illness(es):

  • 41% were told by someone at their church that they did not really have mental illness.
  • 28% were told by someone at their church to stop taking psychiatric medication.
  • 37% were told by someone at their church that their mental illness was the result of personal sin.
  • 34% were told by someone at their church that their mental illness was the result of demonic involvement.

A recent 2014 study by LifeWay Research also revealed that, “Only a quarter of churches (27 percent) have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness according to pastors.”

HARO believes that all homeschooling communities should take immediate action steps to address mental health issues.