William Thornton is the SBC Plodder.
I’m a numbers guy and find these numbers about pastors to be interesting:
One in four pastors acknowledge that they have struggled with a mental illness such as depression.
Since this is a self-reported statistic (LifeWay Research asked pastors, 1000 of them by a telephone survey earlier this year), it is not at all surprising that, anonymously, one in four pastors would report such a struggle. I’m guessing that some of the other three in four lied by not admitting some level of struggle with a mental illness such as depression. Any pastors conference, any small group of ministers who meet regularly will see depression exhibited by the brethren.
It’s tough these days. Most churches are flat in growth or declining. Most churches receive less in receipts than in earlier years. There are more marginal SBC churches that struggle to keep a full time pastor and he is often meagerly paid. He worries about the church. He worries about paying both church and personal bills. His family suffers twice. It’s depressing.
No surprise that many of us go through periods of depression…like every Monday. But the more significant number concerning depression is…
One in eight pastors reported being diagnosed with some form of mental illness.
The same LifeWay Research survey showed that one in eight protestant pastors (the survey was not limited to SBC pastors) report a diagnosis of mental illness. This means that the pastor went to a health care professional – physician, psychiatrist, psychologist – and left with a medical diagnosis of mental illness.
Think of it. In your association of 32 churches, you have several that are pastored by men with a diagnosed mental illness. I judge the survey to have been among pastors, not just senior pastors, so add a few associate pastors to the group of mentally ill.
This is not a surprising proportion considering the prevalence of mental illness in our society; however, chances are your typical layperson would be surprised. Pastors have an aversion to talking to their church about any mental health issue they might have, though they freely share any other illness. Stigma is the word here. Odd that the term used to label the marks on Christ’s body whereby we were made whole we think to be against our welfare in the context of mental illness.
The problem is that there is a powerful belief among Southern Baptists, especially pastors I think, that if you are mentally ill that there is something wrong with your Christian life. One notes that heart disease, prostate trouble, or orthopedic woes do not similarly signal a spiritual problem in the patient.
I’ve been blogging about pastors and depression for some years. This piece from a couple of years ago suggests some things that pastors can do. One thing I have not been dissuaded from is that what pastors generallycannot do is admit to their church that they are seriously depressed. They do so and become damaged goods; however, at some point the pastors is more at risk by not being open about his struggles and should find a way to involve the people responsible for his welfare, his congregation. This is a delicate matter.
The high profile examples of depression and suicide (Rick Warren’s son, Frank Page’s daughter) has made thiss matter to have a highly visible profile in SBC life. LifeWay’s Facts and Trends magazine, sent to every church, perhaps every pastor, has good information on it.
I attend a minister’s conference occasionally. About 20 guys are in attendance, mostly retired like me. The incidence of serious mental illness is lower after middle age, so maybe one or two guys has a diagnosed mental illness. Most of my interaction with other pastors comes online. I’m guessing that quite a number of them are depressed and not a few have such a diagnosis.
Some will read this. To them I say, there’s no long term profit to struggling with depression alone and not seeking medical help. There may well be grave consequences for not doing so.
Stigma or no, hie thee to the doctor brother.
You have my prayers.