About Angela M. MacDonald

Angela is a Wellness Advocate for the Clergy Health Initiative. Angela earned an MDiv/MSW; a joint graduate degree program sponsored by Duke Divinity School and the UNC School of Social Work. Angela is also an ordained Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Angela’s past experiences includes parish ministry, crisis intervention counseling and legal technology consulting. Angela enjoys reading, international travel and "I love lamp".

Clergy depression: carrying it all, burying it all

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Do you have “the blues” or sometimes describe your mood as “just feeling a little down in the dumps”? Life is full of tragedies and triumphs, so these feelings are perfectly normal. However, clergy stressors can make “the blues” constantly recur or outright linger for weeks, months or years. Common clergy stressors can include moving; family or financial strain; difficult church members; overloaded, unpredictable work schedules; social isolation; self-doubt and self-criticism.

These stressors can not only lead to physical health issues but depression. Depression can present itself through poor sleep, low energy, thinking about suicide or extreme mood swings, excessive anger or hostility or feelings of worthlessness. Dr. Chuck DeGroat, vice president of Newbigin House of Studies, states that pastors “often devote themselves to working harder and succeeding more, all in an effort to cast out their demons of depression and despair.” In other words, DeGroat finds that pastors commonly welcome overloaded schedules as a way to deflect from their own feelings.

We often disguise, ignore and/or bury those feelings. We are supposed to balance everything alone and flawlessly. We grapple with expectations for a pastor to only be viewed as highly energetic, emotionally present, engaging and available 24 hours a day. We dread the consequences of not answering a phone call. We believe or are told that the church would collapse if we are not available. We lament/question our call to ministry.

There is, however, some very good news! You are never as alone as you feel, and there is help available. Support for depression can be found through talk therapy, through a variety of prescribed medications, or a combination of both.

WebMD asks the somewhat surprising question, Could You Be Depressed and Not Know It?  However, we often don’t recognize the symptoms that we’re having as being depression.  Sometimes people think, “I’m not suicidal, so I must not really be depressed.”  Again, a range of symptoms is normal, and it’s rare for a person to experience all the symptoms of depression at once.

Depression is NOT a sign of weakness. There is great strength in the pursuit of support and/or treatment.

Below are some other helpful resources:

  • A short self-assessment tool can be found on the Mayo Clinic site.
  • Find someone to talk to at Professional Online Counseling or Professional Online Pastoral & Religious Counseling
  • PastorBurnout.com provides support and information around the burnout that pastors feel during their journey through ministry.
  • Clergy Recovery Network is a non-denominational ministry that provides support for clergy dealing with issues ranging from clergy burnout to church conflict.
  • Pastor Swap gives pastors (and their families) an opportunity to swap homes and churches for the duration of a vacation or sabbatical. The ‘swaps’ can be domestic, international and/or interdenominational.
  • Christo Ministries provides counseling, consulting, and support services to clergy and their families, other church professionals, and congregations. One of their goals is to help congregations eliminate unnecessary conflict and dysfunctional leadership in a way that’s supportive of pastors.