pastors, depression and suicide

>> November 11, 2009

Anyone read the article in USA Today a couple of weeks ago? Propelled by a pastor's suicide in North Carolina, the article explores the reasons lead a pastor to feel depressed and that there's no way out. Some interesting notes from the article:

  • Being a pastor — a high-profile, high-stress job with nearly impossible expectations for success — can send one down the road to depression, according to pastoral counselors.
  • It's a job that breeds isolation and loneliness — the pastorate's "greatest occupational hazards," said Scoggin, who counsels many Baptist and other ministers. "These suicides are born out of a lack of those social supports that can intervene in times of personal crisis."
  • "The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed,.."
  • Counselors say ... fewer depressed ministers get treated because of career fears, social stigma and spiritual taboo.

    "Clergy do not talk about it because it violates their understanding of their faith," said Scoggin. "They believe they are not supposed to have those kinds of thoughts."

  • Society still places a stigma on mental illness, but Christians make it worse, he said, by "over-spiritualizing" depression and other disorders — dismissing them as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness.
  • For pastors, treatment can come at a high price. "You are committing career suicide if you have to seek treatment," said Stanford, "particularly if you have to take time off."
What are your thoughts? In what ways are PWs at risk for this occupational hazard? How can we help a PH who is depressed? How do you help a depressed PH without sidelining the ministry forever (or is this even a consideration?)

12 comments:

Chocolate and Coffee November 11, 2009 at 9:52 AM  

The ministry certainly can take a toll on pastor's when they don't have another pastor friend or someone who they can confide in. Also, in some denominations pastor's fear sharing their feelings with the officials because of the risk of losing their credentials, church or both. Emerge Ministries located in Akron, OH is a great resource for pastor's who are seeking counseling. I know that the AG also has a hotline that is annoymous for pastor's seeking encouragement and prayer. As a pastor's wife, I make it a point to encourage my spouse, love him and pray for him daily. We have been married for 36 years and in the ministry for 28 years. There have been many challenges throughout our ministry and it truly is a very stressful profession. For us, we trust God with our entire lives and truly place all circumstances in His hands. We certainly do no have all the answers but God does and He walks with us as we continually deal with the challenges of ministry.

Enjoy your site. Blessings!

Kendra Lee November 11, 2009 at 11:36 AM  

Read this last week when my hubby forwarded it to me! People really don't realize the stress in a pastor's life...

Thoughts -
-Pastors definitely need a safe place to 'talk'. Yes, that can be at home (with the PW) but even outside.

-Time off is ESSENTIAL. Even God took a day off after creating the world! Weekly breaks and "time off" is something that, while it feels like can't happen at times, HAS to happen!!

-Professional help - I'm not against AT ALL, medicating for depression, if needed. Unfortunately, often in the Christian world, there's a stigma associated with that - but that is changing on many fronts.

-Finally - we as the body need to be PRAYING for pastors and their families (and for each other, those of us that are the pastors' families).

Thanks for this post.

Carrie November 12, 2009 at 2:59 AM  

We lost a dear friend to suicide a couple months ago. It was such a loss! He had been a missionary and a Pastor.

I think that it's the stress levels, sure. But I think that the position of a Pastor is prime target for Satan. We should definitely pray for our ministers more than we do!

Rachael. November 12, 2009 at 1:11 PM  

Oh gosh this subject is sensitive to me personally.

I had suffered thru post part-um depression and the doctor prescribed Zoloft to m. Didn't give instructions on how to take it or anything just wrote me the script and confirmed i was going crazy!

Did you know the #1 side effect of Zoloft is Suicide ? WOW!

I seriously was having such "out of body" experiences. I got off of it as soon as we realized what was going on.

The reason i was in pp depression was to do some major ministry hurts. I feel women have just a high risk.
We can help our pastors by praying for them. Allowing them to be REAL!!!

Rachael. November 12, 2009 at 1:11 PM  

Oh gosh this subject is sensitive to me personally.

I had suffered thru post part-um depression and the doctor prescribed Zoloft to m. Didn't give instructions on how to take it or anything just wrote me the script and confirmed i was going crazy!

Did you know the #1 side effect of Zoloft is Suicide ? WOW!

I seriously was having such "out of body" experiences. I got off of it as soon as we realized what was going on.

The reason i was in pp depression was to do some major ministry hurts. I feel women have just a high risk.
We can help our pastors by praying for them. Allowing them to be REAL!!!

Melody November 12, 2009 at 2:04 PM  

I think this is a great topic of discussion and I've enjoyed reading the comments so far and I hope more people will respond as well.

A very good friend of mine, in her early 30's, and her husband were in full time ministry with the SBC and were very effective. Her husband had an incredible personality and loved Jesus with all his heart. He was a true evangelist and used creative means in reaching people for Christ. He struggled with bipolar and the message that he received from the church in general was "it's a sin problem". He felt guilty being on his medication if he had a "sin problem" and often went off the meds because of this. After an ongoing struggle with this disease he committed suicide four years ago leaving his wife and 8 yr old daughter. My friend does not blame the church or anyone else for the events leading up to his death, however, God has used it to give her a passion and desire to reach other christians struggling with mental health issues. She is working on a doctorate in counseling right now as well as writing a book about her experience. She is speaking at a conference next week in Atlanta about her story. The conference is a Mental Health Conference aimed at the Faith Community. I'm going because I too desire to understand more of how our christian community can help one another in this area of depression and other mental/emotional wellness issues.

Sarah November 12, 2009 at 2:09 PM  

I think that one of the greatest things we can do as PWs is support our husbands in developing solid spiritual friendships where they can be open, vulnerable and "let their hair down". These kinds of relationships can be a preventive measure against depression.

We can also keep our PH's accountable to taking weekly time off and yearly vacations with the family, so that they have regular rejuvenation time. My PH also takes a quarterly day to go out into nature alone and reconnect with God away from all social and media influences, in addition to his day off each week and our date night.

Even if it means a sacrifice of time on our part to urge the PH to go and hang out with a male friend, it's worth it.

cyoung4576 November 12, 2009 at 7:50 PM  

I know I suffer at times and have suffered with depression raging from severe to very mild. It is a struggle to be a young pastors wife. I always worry about what people are saying about me. I worry about the unreasonable standards that family (mainly my husbands) and the congregation expects from me. Even though we are very evenly yoked there are always challenges to face when you are in a precieved interracial marriage,in the ministry and living in the south. If you are not devoted to your spouse, in love and committed to your marriage then I would not advise getting into the ministry (pastors wife) or an interracial marriage
(You can tell that I am not PC). There is NO one to talk to about this issue because many have not experienced this or simply do not or do not want to understand. I deal with this stress through writing in my book, talking with God and chatting with old friends.

Committed to the Most High God and to my marriage
Stephanie D.

Melody November 12, 2009 at 9:14 PM  

cyoung,
I imagine being the south and being in an interracial marriage might be hard, although, I see more of it here in the last five years and it seems to be more understood. Maybe I'm totally wrong. I can't understand why this is an "issue" in the first place, however, it is to many people and I'm just sorry you've had to endure painful comments or the lack of comments but the feeling of being looked down on.

I wonder if you have read Amy's blog over at withpurpose. She and her husband are an interracial couple and he pastored. She has a neat testimony and you might find her helpful to talk with if you email her. I'm linking to her blog through my name on this comment....is that illegal or bad to do???? I don't know....I hope not....but I'm doing it...yikes....I'll ask for forgiveness if I need to. I tried to go to your blog through your name on your comment but I wasn't able to pull up anything so I'm hoping you might come back to the comments here at Clutch.

May the Lord bless you and your husband as you seek to serve him even though misunderstood or persecuted at times. Our Jesus certianly knows what that is like.

Amber November 19, 2009 at 9:40 AM  

Boy, I have seen some of this first hand. In fact, that pastor from NC that committed suicide recently was in my area, and one of my dad's closest friends. My dad is also a pastor and he struggles with depression, but mostly anxiety. After his friend died, he had to get some medication to help him too. My husband is a pastor and he has low moments along the way as well. It's just hard! I think the best thing we can do is pray for our men, recognize demonic attack for what it is, and be willing to wage war through prayer for our husbands.

cyoung4576 November 22, 2009 at 10:12 PM  

Melody,
thank you for responding to my initial post:) Your response was appreciated. I do not understand why it is an issue either despite our growing numbers but it is. Both of my parents are products of a long line of multiracial unions (some unfortunately were illegal unions). Overt racism is not as accepted as before (30+) years ago. It seems as if people believe overt racism is the only form of racism. Unfortunately my husband and I have fell victim to overt racism. People seem to keep their fears and prejudices to themselves to simply tolerate another culture or class. Unfortunately Melody churches are teaching the principle of tolerance as well. We as believers are supposed to do more than just tolerate our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are supposed to love our brothers and sisters not just tolerate them. Tolerance does not bring reconciliation, repentance and unity. Tolerance simply means to keep your mouth closed and put up with someone else. What tolerance does bring about is bottled up emotions and unrighteous feelings. Love is the most powerful thing we have in our faith. If we look up the definition of Godly love and even love we find it is a powerful concept.
7. 1 John 4:7-8 says Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God;
and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Another thing that frustrates me is people lack of understanding or simply avoidance of the issue. I hear things like, “Your just paranoid” “We have a black president racism does not exist” and “ I am not prejudice I have ONE (insert ethnic group) friend or “ I have never had that problem I do not think it is an issue anymore you are just overacting.”
However, with tolerance and avoidance what remains is subtle racism, stereotypes, fear isolationism, separatism and these things divides churches, especially in small towns like mine. I think if we are honest with ourselves and with God we could move forward as a body and become a united Christian body. That is why I get so troubled and grieved about the situation.

anitagwheeler December 2, 2009 at 2:43 AM  

Positive thinking is a must even at tough times. One way to do this is by being grateful with what we have and try to focus being optimistic so that good energy will arise.

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