Many of us suffer from loneliness at one time or another – and pastors are particularly susceptible, even though, as clergy, you also deeply understand the value of intimate relationships.
Researchers are beginning to examine loneliness more closely and as a condition separate from social isolation and depression. According to the findings of the national Health and Retirement Study, which was published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine in June, it is possible for a person to live alone and not feel lonely. But the inverse is also true: someone may be married, surrounded by people, and still experience loneliness. This is particularly problematic for lonely people over the age of 60, who had a 45 percent higher risk of death than those who weren’t lonely, according to the six-year study.
Carla Perissinotto, the lead researcher for the study, says, “It’s all about connectivity.” NPR’s health blog shares how one of Perissinotto’s aging patients continued to lose weight because she felt that meals should be shared with others, and she lived alone. Perissinotto treated her by finding ways for the woman to break bread with others.
Thinking about this connection, I came across a reflection by Cyndi Alte, a UMC pastor in the Indiana Conference, who wrote about her experience with ‘friend deficiency.’ In the piece, she shares how she struggled as a pastor to find deep friendships with people, leaving her feeling “isolated and lonely in ways that affected [her] ministry, family, and faith.”
To find support in her loneliness, Alte joined a covenant group and remained committed to participating on a monthly basis. The small group proved to be her saving grace. “No more am I friend-deficient; I have holy friends who help me renew my passion for ministry and love for God.”
Perhaps a small group has been helpful to you. Using data from the Clergy Health Initiative Longitudinal Survey (coming to you again this August!), we’re exploring the effect that participation in peer and covenant groups seems to have on mental health. More on that soon.
Or maybe you’ve discovered other ways of coping with loneliness. Feel free to share your stories in the comments or send us an email. We are always grateful to hear from you.
(Image: Jonel Hanopol via Flickr/Creative Commons)