Here is a link about an important if somber topic, and one that is sadly familiar to parish clergy.
Greg Warner of Religion News Service has written a good article on depression and suicide among pastors. (We spotted it just yesterday in the latest issue of Christian Century but it appeared in USA Today three weeks ago, as well as in many denominational outlets.) It discusses the suicide in September of Baptist pastor David Treadway in Hickory, NC. One of the experts quoted in the piece is Steven Scoggin of CareNet, a pastoral counselor based in Winston-Salem and a friend of the Clergy Health Initiative.
I can’t add much – the article is worth reading, and the fact that it got picked up in some prominent publications will ease the stigma surrounding these issues. Your humble bloggers have given health talks several times now before groups of clergy, and when we mention depression, it's greeted with rueful, slightly self-conscious laughter. Yes, we're all despondent and half-crazy -- what else is new? Suicide is more shocking, of course, and rarely discussed openly, though I know the 2005 death of Raegan May, a member of the North Carolina Conference, still weighs on the minds of many who knew him.
Most of Warner’s points are ones we make in our presentations on our work:
- The congregation expects that the pastor should be constantly available.
- Pastors tend to be people-pleasers with high self-expectations. Confronted with the challenges of ministry, this perfectionistic thinking can lead to a cycle of frustration and isolation.
- There are serious career risks when a pastor admits the need for mental health treatment.
What was most striking to me in Greg Warner's article was the notion that depression is hard for the church to deal with and hard for some pastors to admit even to themselves. A pastor's interior life should not include depressive moods or thoughts; as Steve Scoggin puts it, the experience of depression "violates their understanding of their faith." I hope that here on the blog and elsewhere, we can explore more fully the borderlands of faith and mental health. The two realms are at odds in some ways, and there is work to do to overcome the gap in understanding.
We included items on last year’s Clergy Health survey about depression. We have done the analysis, are going through the academic peer-review process, and will have more to say about the findings soon.
John James, M.A.
Clergy Health Initiative