Is Depression Being Repressed Among Clergy?

Clergy Members Not Free to Admit DepressionReverend Teddy Parker, Jr. committed suicide after suffering manic depression. Parker shared his diagnosis of depression with a few people close to him but failed to take the break from the pulpit necessary to maintain his mental health. Is depression being repressed among clergy?

The funeral service for Parker was held on Saturday, November 16 at Fellowship Bible Baptist Church; the church where Parker’s ministry began.

In eulogizing Parker, Reverend E. Dewey Smith said Parker’s death should be a wake up call for other pastors to add themselves to the long list of people for whom they care for.

He referenced stats from a New York Times article from 2010 which states 25 percent of clergy have reported that they didn’t know where to go for help with when dealing with personal conflicts; 33 percent said they felt a sense of burnout within the first five years; 45 percent said they’ve been depressed to the point of needing time off but could not express it; and 57 percent of pastors said they would gladly take another job if they were qualified.

Smith told those in attendance that these numbers should show members why it’s important to encourage their pastors.

Smith, a longtime and close friend of Parker, said since his friend committed suicide he has received multiple texts, emails and phone calls of fellow clergymen saying that due to stress they have already notified their church board of their need for a sabbatical.

Coming from a background as a church leader for many years and as a professional coach, here are some things I feel the church can do to better serve those displaying signs of depression:

  • The first thing we must remember is depression is a health issue; not a bad mood: Often in the church community we feel we can simply pray it away or “give it” to God. While prayer is a vital tool in our lives, we must also know that there are resources available to help. It all begins with a proper diagnosis.
  • When a person is battling depression they need support; not judgment: When I was coming up in church, if you admitted to depression, people wanted to chastise you for not having faith in God. That’s like asking someone with cancer, “Why can’t you get healed?” The greatest deterrent to depression is a loving, supportive group to help.
  • If medication is needed don’t let shame stop the process: Doctors and healthcare professionals are in the community for a reason. At times, medication is needed to help through a tough transition. We should not make those under a doctor’s care feel uncomfortable about stepping up and getting the help they need.

Smith said during his closing remarks that even though many church people fail to understand how men and women of faith can suffer from stress related illnesses such as depression, the Bible references the attributes of depression several times. David was so depressed he wanted the wings of a dove so he could fly away. Moses was instructed to speak to the rock but because of his frustration struck it instead. Elijah asked God to take his life as he hid under a tree. And Jeremiah cursed the day he was born. If these don’t sound like men who were dealing with depression I’m not sure what does.

He went on to say that his friend Parker needed a break but their church culture does not allow for that; but if we are going to move from tragedy to triumph we must be transparent.

Pastor Rick Warren also sent condolences to the family. His son took his own life last April so he understood the grief a family faces after losing a loved one to suicide.

Warren is the senior pastor of Saddleback Church located in Lake Forest, California. Warren said in a letter read at the funeral, “There is no shame in mental sickness, taking medications for it or seeking professional counseling.”

Reverend Teddy Parker, Jr. committed suicide after suffering manic depression. He knew he needed to take a break from his pulpit but felt the culture of the church doesn’t allot space for that.  Is depression being repressed among clergy?

By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
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