Research from the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School indicates that clergy members are (by rather conservative figures) over 1.5 times more likely to experience depression than members of the general population.
Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, the study's lead researcher, opines:
"It's concerning that such a high percentage of clergy may be depressed while they are trying to inspire congregations, lead communities and social change ventures, even just trying to do counseling of their own parishioners. These are responsibilities that you would really want a mentally healthy person be engaged in, and yet it may be the challenges of those responsibilities that might be driving these high rates of depression."
Reporter Katherine Hindley adds the observation that "Other occupations that involve a strong focus on providing care for others, such as those in nursing and social work fields, have also been tied to above-average rates of depression."
So the nature of spiritual work is depressive? The study doesn't go that far, but the long hours and the emotional rollercoaster of ministry work does leave many leaders feeling insignificant, unappreciated, and down. Sometimes persistently depressed.
Hindley also quotes Steven Scoggin, president of CareNet a North Carolinan network of pastoral counseling centers:
"There is a sense that they should be able to handle more because they're a person of faith," said Scoggin. "It's not really embraced well by congregations for clergy to be transparent and vulnerable with their struggles … We could do more for them early in their development, in their seminary education, to have better boundaries emotionally and psychologically. I think it is very much a self-care issue."
Leadership Journal wants you to take care of yourself. It was a key theme of a full issue recently. Here are a few places to start with further reading:
-Lesa Englethaler talks about God's absence and "Growing in the Dark."
-Psalms of lament give voice, but no easy answers, to John Colwell in "Befriending the Darkness."
-Tommy Nelson searches for peace in "Anxiety Attack!"
-Ed Rowell ponders "Why Am I Angrier Than I Used to Be?"
-And Paul Pastor asks why we put such pressure on hurting Christians to be positive in "How to Pray When You're Pissed at God."
If you experience routine depression, or struggle with healthy self-care, please seek out professional counseling.
Leader, you deserve the same level of care you give to others.
Copyright © 2013 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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