I see a black dog rising

Today in church, I did something that – to my knowledge – I haven’t seen any minister do before. I certainly hope that I am wrong in that though.

 

Today, I was vulnerable in front of my congregation. After talking about my previous mental health problems, I told them that I was currently struggling through a dark patch. I told them that I was going to be seeking out professional help, but I let them know that I was struggling.

In the last week or so, I’ve had a couple of crisis moments where I couldn’t cope. Both of them came out of no-where, and both of them had me at a complete blank as to what I needed to do. I couldn’t think of what to do in that moment. In both of them, I ended up in tears, not being able to pin point the reason why I was crying.

In the past, I would have – and did – keep this mostly to myself. As a minister, there is a sense of shame that comes with depression. This post on Church Leaders shares about how clergy often suffer depression in silence – that is, they don’t share what they are

 

going through with others, or they don’t seek out treatment in the fear that doing so will jeopardise their ministry, their job, their security. In this post, it quotes Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas who studies how the Christian community deals with mental illness. The article references Stanford saying

depression in Christian culture carries “a double stigmatization.” Society still places a stigma on mental illness, but Christians make it worse, he said, by “over-spiritualizing” depression and other disorders—dismissing them as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness.

Yet, we shouldn’t shy away from depression. It’s estimated that two to four percent of the general population suffer from depression at any one time, and surveys I have seen have placed the rate that clergy have experienced moderate to severe depression at any point in their lives around the 20-25% mark.

In 1982, Christianity Today published an article on Depression in the Clergy. Having a read through it, I could have sworn it was published yesterday. It highlights the many intricacies of why clergy get depressed, and provides some helpful solutions to help avoid it.

For me, I’m fairly certain that my current state is situational. I have been working above my capacity for a while, attempting to cover both my role and my wife’s role while she is on Maternity leave. Add to that the general multi-faceted dimensions of leading a church, and adjusting to life as a parent of a new child (albeit for the third time), meant that eventually something was going to give. Thankfully (if there can ever be a thankfully when dealing with a crisis), for me it gave out when all my busy period had finished and I actually slowed down and stopped for a bit.

So I am going to seek out help. I’m making an appointment to see my GP this week, and I’ll give a call to our pastoral care team to get some help from them. I’m also going to start being proactive with looking after my mental health – getting my physical health back on track, spending time on projects away from ministry, setting limits on what is achievable at work, and also renewing my spiritual time.

I was nervous about sharing with my corps that I was struggling with my mental health. But, the response from my corps has been nothing but supportive and loving – what I really should have expected from them.

If you are in ministry, and you aren’t feeling quite right, or you are feeling depressed or you recognise the signs in the Depression in the clergy article, then know that you’re not alone. Share it with people as you feel comfortable, and seek out professional help as needed.

Today was a good day for me. Who knows what tomorrow will hold for me. But as I once heard Max Lucado say,

You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naïve. But don’t despair either. With God’s help you will get through this.

It might not be painless, it might not be quick, and I may not know whether God will use this for good or not, but I will trust that with God’s help, and the help of my community, my family and friends, and professionals, I will get through this.

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

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