When church members experience depression and life-threatening situations, they resort to pastors for help and comfort but what happens when pastors suffer similar fate?
I was on my usual surf online, curating content for the Faithflows.org community, when I came across the shocking headlines – a young pastor in the United States of America (US), had died by suicide! Much as I was surprised, I became more disturbed when I read further that he had a beautiful family and has also been a source of hope to many young people in his church. Right about now, you must have a slews of questions running through your mind. I asked myself the same questions. What could have gone wrong?
Well it boils down to this simple fact, pastors are almost always at the giving end and not at the receiving end. They face challenges too, become depressed and go through bouts of anxiety most often, with no one to talk to- and when this bottles up they commit the extreme- dying by suicide.
There’s been a spike in suicide in recent times among pastors in the United states leaving many, including church members reeling in confusion with many unanswered questions. Before I dive into some of the reasons, I want to share a quick verse of hope for all shepherds out there.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.Hebrews 6:10
These are tough times for pastors as some have to deal with overwhelming life changes like losing jobs, church members, managing the new phase of a digital church, and lack of funds to maintain church beyond the pandemic. These massive changes and lack of support can lead to depression.
Depression and suicide are not new phenomenon – people experience it all the time but it gets worrying when pastors are involved at an alarming rate. Experts say most suicides starts out with depression. However, some work it out by getting help or living with it while others succumb to the pressure.
Below of some of the causes cited
People put high expectations on pastors due to the nature of their jobs forgetting that they are also human and may fall short. This pressure is often mounted on them when they are found engaging in vices and other activities that go contrary to what they preach and they themselves accepting that they have disappointed themselves and most importantly God. With no one to talk to, they drown themselves in depression which often leads to suicide.
Being a pastor can be such a ‘lonely’ trajectory. Most often, pastors are seen to have it all together and are left alone. Lack of support systems in times of crisis is also considered one cause of suicide. Having a support system is often suggested by experts when people are faced with challenges and is a sure way to get emotional support to sail through tough times.
It’s also possible that pastors like other people fail to access counseling due to stigmatization and belief/faith . According to Psychology Today, less than half of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201810/15-reasons-why-people-depression-don-t-get-treatment)
They are scared of what society would think of them, what the church would make of it and come to think of it isn’t it showing lack of faith in God?
Downplaying gravity of mental illness
Those who have never experienced depression take it lightly when a pastor confides in them. They see depression as something that is easy to deal with and may recommend prayers for people going through it. This is not to say prayers do not work in this instance. It does but coupled with counseling and treatment, progress is much faster.
What can be done ?
People need to be less judgemental when dealing with pastors as they are humans and may go against what they preach or Christian norms. When this happens, the church should find a way to help and put them back on track rather than ostracizing and judging them for the Scripture says in Mathew 7:1-2 that “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Mental illness among Christians and pastors should be normalized and not be ignored or seen as nonspiritual. When it happens that way, pastors can easily talk about it and seek for help.
Mental Illness programs
Churches should design programs on mental illness, its effects and solutions to create awareness for church members and pastors. When dealt on that level, they get acquainted to the subject and know the exact steps to take when depression strikes. At these programs, pastors who have survived from depression and possible suicide can share their journey to inspire others.
Churches should set up counseling units where pastors can seek for attention when there’s a need. These units must be strictly confidential so pastors can comfortably walk in knowing that interactions are kept confidential.
Each other’s keeper
Pastors should look out for each other so that they can offer prompt help and encouragement when another is dealing with depression or other mental illnesses.
Above all prayers. The church must always have a prayer session for people dealing with mental health issues for God’s intervention while victims seek further treatment.
They’ve been there for us all these years so this is the time to show them some love. If you say a prayer, say one for your pastor too!
To conclude, here are some disturbing facts about suicides.
It’s estimated that 16.2 million adults in the US or 6.7 percent of American adults have had at least one major depressive episode in a year . Suicide takes the lives of over 44,965 Americans every year. (CDC) and is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages with almost 800,000 people dying in the world each year, which is roughly one death every 40 seconds.
It’s unclear how many pastors make up the numbers but what is clear at the moment is that, many pastors are dying by suicide in quick succession and something needs to be done about it.
- Health line https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/facts-statistics-infographic#1