Earnest: There was a 2015 study of the mental health of Jehovah's Witnesses ...
I am very familiar with that "study" by Rolf Furuli. Unfortunately, although it is interesting for its unique perspective, it is nevertheless extremely flawed and very biased. What he calls a "study" is merely a survey and not a rigorous one by academic or scientific standards.
His argument is essentially: "Bergman has questionable credentials and ethics; therefore, JWs do not have a problem with mental illness. I also know because I asked a bunch of my friends if there were any crazy JWs in their congregations and they said, 'No, not many!'"
I'm not joking. He really did this.
An example of this can be seen by considering Furuli's "methodology." He himself explains:
As the basis for my 2015 study, I sent a questionaire to elders in 35 Norwegian congregations. In order to ascertain that the numbers from the Norwegian congregations were representative of the worldwide population of JW, I sent the same questionaire to elders in 24 congregations in USA and in 15 congregations in 12 other countries. The elders were asked to carefully consider each member of the congregation with the following questions in mind: How many active and inactive members have, or have had, a mental illness (schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder etc.), and how many active or inactive members have, or have had, a severe depression? (2015, p. 8)*
Seriously!?! Furuli asked congregation "Elders" to diagnose mental illnesses and then to report back to him. THAT is the basis for his conclusion that JWs have a lower incidence of mental health issues than the general population. To say this is flawed research methodology is a gross understatement.
Obviously, elders are not trained or qualified in any way to make such assessments. This is ridiculous!
Also, his own data sometimes indicates that mental health issues are higher among JWs than among the general population. For example, he writes:
If we use this number, the rate of admission to mental hospitals is 2.60 per 1000 among the Witnesses compared with 2.54 in the normal population; the rate of schizophrenia is 1.15 among the Witnesses and 0.61 in the normal population; the rate of paranoid schizophrenia is 0.88 among the Witnesses and 0.38 in the normal population (2015, p. 5).
So even after Furuli’s tweaks with the numbers, he admits the rate of mental illness of JWs in Western Australia is more than that in the normal population. Nevertheless, Furuli himself admits that "final conclusions are difficult to draw" (2015, p. 5).
Another significant detail to consider in Furuli's analysis is that he included "only those who have been treated by a psychiatrist or at a mental hospital are counted" (2015, p. 11). There are two serious problems with this:
- There is no reason to exclude people that suffer from mental health issues and do not seek professional help. Many people do not, especially JWs since this religion actively discourages it.
- Again, this information was reported to him by congregation elders, so it would exclude anyone that may have been treated by a mental health professional or admitted to a "mental hospital" but the elders did not know about it. (If you think the elders know everything, you're wrong). This fact alone likely changes the actual numbers drastically.
These two factors alone demonstrate the serious methodological flaws of Furuli's "study." A dispassionate reading suggests that the actual number of active and former JWs suffering from mental health issues is probably quite high. Indeed, for a religion that claims to be "the happiest people on Earth," even one person with mental health issues is a problem for their delusional, unrealistic and unhealthy ideology.
Furuli's discussion of the issue of suicide is similarly flawed. Demonstrating his religious bias, Furuli writes: "To commit suicide is an extreme act that violates the basic principles of God, and persons who do that either are mentally ill or they are in a situation of the deepest despair where they see no solution for their problems" (2015, p. 13).
Clearly, people that are suicidal have mental health issues. But it is equally obvious that if you are a member of a religion that spouts messages like the above, you are not likely to be open about your mental health issues with congregation elders. Unfortunately, such ideological shaming usually has the opposite effect, causing people to hide their concerns, preventing many from getting the help they need. This is a serious, endemic problem for people in this religion.
There are so many other logical and factual errors in his paper it's laughable. The last third turned into a JW propaganda puff-piece totally unbecoming for an academic paper.
I could write more detailing reasons whey Furuli's "research" should not be given much attention, but the above makes the point. Again, really lame.
* Note: My citations are from an early draft of Furuli's research submitted for the 2015 CENSUR conference in Belgium. It is my understanding that this draft was rejected for publication because of serious methodological problems. The link Earnest provided is only to the abstract of an ostensibly revised version. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of that.