Feeling anxious? You’re not alone.

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A billboard by British artist David Shrigley, displayed in New York City earlier this year:

The commissioner of this piece described it as “a reminder of our fears, insecurities, and paranoia, which are so familiar to our contemporary society.” I take it as a reminder that when I feel alienated and alone, I’m not alone in those feelings. There’s something humorous and comforting about a billboard broadcasting what most of us try really hard to keep hidden.

If you could put a thought bubble on a billboard to help people feel a little less alone, I wonder what it would say.

(Click on the picture above for larger version that’s easier to read.)

–Tommy Grimm

(Initially discovered on Daniel Smith’s blog.)

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.

Alone in a Crowd

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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.

Kelli Christianson

(Image: Jonel Hanopol via Flickr/Creative Commons)