Confession of a Depressed Pastor

First, let me say this. I take my medicine every day.

I sat through a clergy meeting one time where the topic of discussion was “how to improve preaching.” I leaned over to one of my colleagues and said, “I know one way. Go on antidepressants.” I was surprised when my friend turned to me and said, “Amen to that.” He was taking them too.

I wonder what the statistics on active members of the clergy in all faith taking prescribed medicine for depression. I bet they are not as high as they should be. We have a stressful job. People bring us their issues in more ways than one. Clergy tend to be creative people who do not have enough outlets or time for our creativity. So I would guess that many of us are taking some form of therapy for depression. I also know that there are many who need help and do not get it. The fishbowl of clergy living negatively impacts a person reaching out for help. So clergy may self-medicate with online pornography, illegal drugs, illicit sex, or over indulging in food and/or alcohol.

I have times when people in the church cannot believe that I take medicine for depression. “You seem so happy and extroverted.” And so I am. But, I have times when the Churchill’s black dog is chasing me; and I feel (as one friend says) I am wearing underwear made by MilkBone. The medicine keeps the downward spiral from happening. And yet, I still contemplate taking my own life a couple of times every year. The cycle is always there. The medicine takes off the edge. And I am less grouchy and argumentative with those I care most about.

Clergy members who suffer with some form of depression feel an exceptional pinch to fake it. After all, we are told to “turn our troubles over to God.” We sing about “how the Lord can lift us up” if we turn to him. I like prayers and songs. I hate how they make me feel some times. Many clergy feel the trap between “my church members will want another pastoral leader if they know” and “maybe I should put an end to it all.” Fake it or die trying. Depressed clergy can self-destruct in other ways too. There must be ways we can realize how important it is to get professional help.

I suggest we first admit our health is about us. It is not the stress of the job or family life. These are situations to which we are reacting. Depression is a medical problem that needs treatment. It is not a spiritual issue or the divine presence saying it is time to move on. Take care of your mental health by getting help in doing it.

Secondly, get all the information you want. Many people are afraid of antidepressants because they have bad information regarding “links” between some of the drugs and suicide. Ask a medical professional about those risks. Do not ask Google

Thirdly, I suggest before taking serious actions or making major statements that a time of reflective questioning be taken. Am I considering this because of the illness? It may be that brain chemicals are distorting your view of what it happening.

Do not be surprised when beginning a therapy causes mood swings, sleepiness, insomnia,or any other symptom. Like medicine for hypertension it takes time to work through to the proper balance. You will get there.

Clergy who suffer from depression can become the most compassionate pastoral leaders if they get the help they need. Church leaders and members need to know that a person suffering from this mental illness needs all they help he or she can get to integrate into the community of faith.

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