Depression, anxiety and suicide. There is nowhere to hide. There is no job, social status or age that can guarantee you will not be affected by mental illness. Researchers differ when it comes to cause and effect. Some say the brain chemistry is flawed causing depression and anxiety, others say depression and anxiety causes the brain chemistry to become flawed. The one thing that they seem to agree on is there are things we can do to alter the impact of this illness on our thought process. There are medicines that combat the symptoms and cognitive therapy and behaviour modification can address the damaged lens through which the sufferer views the world around them.
I suffer from depression and anxiety.
My diagnosis in 2014 was severe depression and anxiety (based on the BDI –II and BAI test). You would never guess if you met me back then because there was no way I wanted you to know. Unaddressed childhood and teenage trauma, a chronic disease that in most cases causes depression and anxiety as well as life altering autoimmune issues all played a role in my mental health issues.
It is possible that my brain was already chemically imbalanced and these life events and my inability to process them caused my downward spiral. It is also possible that my inability to process past trauma along with the added pressure of new health issues caused my brain to change chemically leading to a downward spiral. All I know is that my life experiences played a role in my journey into a dark place.
Why all this unrequested personal information?
I want those reading to understand that I understand what it is to struggle with mental illness. I have gone through the therapy sessions and I have explored the distorted thought processes that contributed to the unrealistic expectations I had for myself and the destructive belief that I was a failure.
I also want people to know that I still struggle with these thoughts even though the severity of my depression and anxiety has for the most part eased to a manageable level. I still have to remember to “…take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV), His view of me and His love.
There is hope.
I did not choose the factors that played heavily into my battle with mental illness. I am able to, now that I am applying the tools I have been given through my Christian therapist, address the factors that continue to negatively influence my thought process.
I may be the exception. Mental illness is taking a toll on my fellow pastors. I am sympathetic to their pain. I pray that with help they too will be able to use tools similar to mine to address the factors that continue to negatively influence their thought process. The biggest obstacle that stands in the way is not being able to see that we can play a part in our own destruction.
Many pastors have chosen a distorted view of their calling which in turn influences their thought process contributing to the unrealistic expectations they have for themselves and eventually the destructive belief that they are failures. It doesn’t matter if there was past trauma or current difficult and painful situations or whether their brain chemistry started out flawed or became flawed, some pastors have chosen a path that will end in depression, anxiety and possibly suicide.
Are We the Architects of Our Own Demise?
I have been blessed not to fall into the modern “it’s all about the numbers” ministry philosophy. I have avoided adopting the “how-to” book craze as gospel truth on what a pastor/church should be. The truth is, I have been tempted to define my ministry based on the accomplishments of others and model my approach after documented successes but something stopped me. Boy, am I glad.
I already have a distorted view of myself, one that doesn’t let me see anything I do as a success but rather an accomplishment that can always be done better. This flaw along with the hurts of the past and the unavoidable life happens stuff coupled with the markers of a successful pastor that have become the North American norm would destroy me. I would have no one else to blame but myself because God never asked me to judge myself based on a fad but rather I must define myself based on my obedience to His calling while embracing His grace.
I am asking you to think about this.
Not every pastor falls into this distorted view of their ministry but I fear more and more are. I believe the biggest reason for job related depression is that the calling of pastor has been redefined and distorted so much that it no longer resembles the position of shepherd. If you are called by God to be a pastor why would you ever feel at ease using that title but doing something else?
Over and over again I hear that the church should stop being focused inward and start being focused outward. Maybe if the church was focused upward it would learn to meet both the needs of the community in the church and outside the church. Pastors would return to caring for spiritual needs and equipping the church as it worships, trusts and pursues God’s direction. In other words pastors would be working within their calling and giftings. They wouldn’t be marketing and programing directors or entertainers and show producers but pastors that love and care for the church.
This is not the solution for all mental health issues that pastors face but I believe it shines a light on the distorted measurements that many pastors are using to judge the effectiveness of their ministry.