When Clergy Face Depression We Can ALL Help

When Clergy Face Depression We Can ALL Help

All human beings experience feeling “blue” or “down in the dumps” sometimes. It may come as a surprise, but clergy are human too! It can be hard to admit that one might be depressed.

Feelings of inadequacy, feelings of failing their calling, or that one should be able to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” may prevent clergy and others from seeking the help they need. 

It is well documented that mental health is negatively impacted by psychological distress in difficult times such as disasters, social unrest and the current pandemic. Like frontline healthcare workers, clergy are not immune to the risk of negative mental health outcomes due to their call to support individuals and the community in coping with these challenges. Research has identified connection with a faith-based community as a protective factor for maintaining mental health because of the sense of belonging. However, studies have also shown clergy to be at risk for burnout because they neglect self-care and feel overloaded by 24-hour needs of the congregation.

During COVID -19, clergy and congregants are experiencing the trauma over a prolonged period. This makes it difficult for clergy to take time to process their trauma.  Greene, Bloomfield & Billings (2020)** wrote about potentially morally injurious events (PMIEs) experienced by clergy that can lead to post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and suicidality. The PMIEs include transgressions of self or others, betrayal by those in authority, and theological challenge. The closure of businesses and in-person worship, limitations on the size of gatherings, inability to visit in the hospital, social distancing, and masks are PMIEs which have made it very difficult for clergy to serve as they feel called.  Logic and science promote understanding of the rationale for these measures but are in conflict with pastoral visits, end-of-life care, weddings, christenings and all that comes with being a pastor.

Greene, Bloomfield & Billings (2020) and many other mental health sources recommend intentional self-care, nutrition, exercise, relaxation time, focused self-spiritual care, focus on one’s sense of purpose, social support and a counselor, spiritual director when needs. A trusted counselor, physician or other healthcare practitioner can identify whether there are underlying medical conditions causing depression and then recommend counseling, exercise, or other means of treatment.

People experiencing depression often do not even realize they have a treatable illness.  Depression results from an imbalance of the neurotransmitters in the brain that can cause a person to feel like they can’t imagine happiness in life. The emotional and physical pain leads to thoughts of suicide as the way to make the pain stop even though the person does not want to die. A close friend just might be the one to speak up to help a person recognize they are depressed and need to seek help. One American dies by suicide every 12 minutes. One in five adults experiences a significant mental illness each year.

Asking someone you are concerned about if they have thoughts of suicide or harming themselves is the key to suicide prevention. If you know someone who appears to be depressed reach out and listen, recommend help and keep in touch. Let them know you care. Remember, treatment can be very effective including psychotherapy, exercise, light therapy, medication, acupuncture meditation, faith and nutrition. The key is to be honest, seek out a healthcare professional, tell them what you are feeling and get help!
Register here for a Health and Wellness Chat Tuesday September 29th at 11 AM to talk more about depression prevention.
Here are some things you can watch for from National Alliance on Mental Illness:
Common Symptoms of Depression
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Hopelessness or guilty thoughts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Changes in movement (less activity or agitation)
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Changes in the way you function in day to day activities, lasting more than two weeks
Depression May Be Caused By
  • Trauma
  • Genetics
  • Brain chemical imbalance
  • Life circumstances: marital status, job status, financial changes, relationship changes
  • Medical conditions: Lack of sleep, chronic pain, anxiety, some medications
  • Drug and alcohol misuse
Suicide Prevention
  • Ask in a caring way if the person is having thoughts of suicide
  • Be there, listen without judgment
  • Keep them safe, stay with them, make sure there are no lethal means nearby
  • Help them stay connected with resources for help and support
  • Follow up with supportive ongoing contact
  • Learn more: National Suicide Prevention Month
Take a Mental Health Depression Screening Test
Build Resilience: Presbyterian Church
"Recovering Hope" offers emotional care resources during COVID-19

Read "I Don't Want to Talk About it..Depression in the Wake of Covid-19" by Rev. Jessica McArdle.
**Greene, T., Bloomfield, M.A.P., & Billings, J. (2020). Psychological trauma and moral injury in religious leaders during COVID-19. Trauma Psychology, 12:S1, 143-145.


Deborah Ringen

Deborah Ringen is the Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.

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