The holidays are expected to be a season of joy, benevolence and (frequently) a LOT of shopping. However, studies reveal that the holidays can also signal the recurrence of past emotional pain and an increase in ‘the blues’ or ‘holiday depression.’ As such, many pastors also deal with an uptick in requested pastoral counseling sessions. This means that pastors may hear countless stories about the memories of lost loved ones, the absence of family due to travel or family conflict, and strained marriages.
Pastors are expected to be caring, available, and safe receivers of this information. And society conditions all of us to present a brave front in the midst of sorrow. So how can pastors manage the weight of sadness heard from congregants while it may inevitably remind them of their own losses?
One way is by recognizing depression, which often gets masked or overlooked.
Drs. John Lynch and Christopher Kilmartin have written a compelling book entitled The Pain Behind the Mask. Although the book’s subtitle says that it addresses masculine depression (an often undiagnosed condition), the authors provide incredible points throughout the book that can be useful for everyone. The authors specifically mention female professionals who decide to adopt a less feminine persona as a survival skill in male-dominated professions.
Lynch and Kilmartin explain that women are diagnosed with depression twice as often as men. However, they note that those statistics may be inaccurate since men experience depression differently than women and are expected to display “traditional masculinity” (hyperindependence, toughness, unfeeling, detached from feelings). While the definitions are not absolute, Lynch and Kilmartin describe the differences in masculine and feminine depression using the figure below:
The book delves deeper into these and other topics, featuring chapter titles such as ‘He Sure Doesn’t Look Depressed’ and ‘Empathy for Self and Responsibility for Change.’
It seems to be human nature for all of us to wear some type of mask in our everyday lives. Whether it is at the workplace, a social event or even church, our masks serve to disguise or protect us. For pastors, it can be especially difficult to find a safe place to remove that mask. Further, it may be difficult to recognize that you’re actually wearing a mask when you believe it has been removed.
The Pain Behind the Mask goes on to provide a list of helpful questions to consider if you or a loved one notice that there is a strong disconnect between one’s public appearance and private appearance. Most importantly, The Pain Behind the Mask includes very helpful information and tips to assist you in improving relations with your peers, family and yourself.
Do YOU have an outlet, reliable support person or system that gives you a safe place to take off your mask?
– Angela M. MacDonald
Image credits: Puppy photo courtesy of Bill Weaver, via Flickr/Creative Commons. Book cover and image on male/female depression courtesy of ‘The Pain Behind the Mask.’