TRIGGER WARNING: DEPRESSION, SUICIDE
I promised myself months ago that I wouldn’t write another post until I had written this one; and I wouldn’t write this one until I’d done something about it. Now I have. Since I haven’t posted since April, it’s taken me a long time.
The news came out a few days ago that the lead pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California, completed suicide after battling depression and anxiety for years. It sparked a new round of conversation among Facebook friends about the challenges pastors face and the rising percentages of professional church leaders who report suffering from and being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I know what they’re talking about.
I know, because I am one. I am a pastor diagnosed with depression. I see a counselor and I take medicine to help manage it. For a long time I was afraid to seek help, even though I knew I needed it. The stigma around mental illness in the church, even in progressive churches, is crushing.
As short as it is, it’s taken a long time to write this post as part of a process of overcoming the stigma associated with depression. I’ve mentioned my depression a few times in the last few months, but haven’t talked much about it openly. It’s time to.
What’s it like to be a pastor who suffers from depression?
- It’s waking up every morning and wishing you could stay in bed rather than go to your office to work on a sermon.
- It’s feeling your heart jump in your chest when the church door opens because in your depression you assume that the person coming in is only there to tear you down.
- It’s being paralyzed when you try to schedule a social home visit because the idea of spending an hour or more pretending to be okay in front of someone whose attention is completely on you is an unbearable thought.
- It’s getting to the end of worship and not being able to remember any of it.
- It’s having holes in your memory of pastoral care conversations.
- It’s staring at a blank screen that should be your sermon in the early morning hours on Sunday because sermon writing used to be your passion, and now, it’s sometimes impossible.
- It’s lying through your teeth every time someone asks how you are and you say “Fine”, because you’re a pastor, and you’re not allowed to be anything else.
- It’s having to fight through every bad day without support because to openly admit you’re struggling with depression is to invite people to question your effectiveness as a pastor.
- It’s crying whenever you say/sing Morning or Evening Prayer and not knowing why.
- It’s trying to provide pastoral care to others suffering from depression and leaving feeling like you need the same thing, and it’s not available.
- It’s getting angry at the advice to “just love the people” when you can’t even love yourself. (Same thing with “love your neighbor as yourself”)
- It’s feeling your relationships with the community, the lifeblood of your ministry, slowly fizzling out, because maintaining those relationships takes more energy than you have.
- It’s not being able to talk to God because you feel like a failure, and you don’t want to hear God confirm it.
I feel most of these every day. Learning to get through them is an ongoing process. Some days, I take steps forward. Some days, I take steps back. Counseling and medication help. They really do. It’s a long road ahead, but every step counts; every step matters.
If you think you might be suffering from depression, please seek help. Check if your employer participates in an Employee Assistance Program that can help you find a counselor. Ask your doctor about different options, including counseling and/or medication. There is help.