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For pastors struggling with a mental health issue

depression, person, alone
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In ministry, our jobs are typically designed to help others. We walk with families through grief, help the single mother, and pray for couples struggling through an affair. We are outwardly focused, pouring into others for the benefit of Christ. 

But what happens when the person in need of help is in our own family? What if the person struggling is actually our own self? 

Over the past couple of decades, we have seen a significant increase (approximately 35%) in death by suicide. In fact, it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Add the COVID-19 pandemic, and our culture has experienced significant increases in mental health issues.

Maybe you find yourself among those individuals struggling. Hopelessness and helplessness have become common feelings for you. You keep telling yourself that you shouldn’t be struggling. You wonder, “Will people think I have a sin problem? What if I lose credibility? Should I even be in ministry? How can I help others if I am struggling?” 

The biggest barrier to receiving mental health treatment is one’s own self. The perceived stigma of mental health can keep people, especially men, from seeking help. Many pastors also believe they can independently handle their own mental health issues, sometimes even denying the need for help. Don’t let that be you. 

Your identity

People use their mental health condition as a way to describe themselves (i.e. “I’m an anxious person.” “I’m a depressed person.”), instead of letting their identity define their condition. (i.e. “I am a person that happens to struggle with anxiety.”) 

Sometimes mental health issues can seem all consuming, possibly leaving you to believe the lie that those issues define you. It may not seem like much, but simply re-examining and redefining your identity can be a positive first step.  

You may even need a daily reminder that your Creator, not your struggle, defines you. What does your Creator call you? He defines you as: Wonderfully created in His image (Ps. 139: 14; Gen. 1:26), a saint (Romans 8:27), forgiven (Psalm 103:11-12), His child (1 John 3:1, Gal. 3:26), loved (1 John 4:10), an heir (Romans 8:17), an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and saved (Eph. 2:8).

Jesus is not surprised by your mental health diagnoses, your weaknesses, or your struggles. He was never once caught off-guard by them. Nor has God turned His back on you. In fact, maybe He is drawing you closer. May you find rest in Him and how He defines you.

Education

Mental health issues are often complex in nature. Biology, psychology/emotion, society/culture, spirituality, and familial relationships all impact us, and attribute to the multifaceted layers of mental health conditions. 

While all mental health disorders and physical diseases are the result of Original Sin, that doesn’t mean your mental health issue is the result of personal sin. While some diagnosable conditions are marked by more biological causes (i.e. learning disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome), other conditions are often a combination of factors. 

There are times when someone may suffer due to the consequences of personal sin, while other times someone is the suffering servant. It’s best to consult with a professional to help determine the roots of your mental health issue. 

Additionally, most mental health issues are not a lifetime diagnosis. You can suffer from depression at age 20, but not meet the criteria for depression at age 25. There is hope for recovery. 

Support

One risk factor for developing or maintaining a mental health condition is lack of social support. Another way to state that is, having social support is a resiliency factor for good prognosis. 

Community with others is vital, something many pastors lack. If you are struggling to find community and connection with those in close proximity, try scheduling regular Zoom meetings or phone calls with a friend in another state. Online support groups (yep, they have ones geared to ministers) can also be a way to garner support and build friendship within the body of Christ. 

Resources

One of the best places to start when seeking counseling or treatment is talking with your primary care doctor. Neurological and medical issues can sometimes mimic mental health issues. Rule out medical issues first. To find counselors, evaluators, or therapists, you may want to check with your insurance plan. Other resources for finding a counselor or therapist include:

I encourage you, from a professional and personal standpoint, not to lose hope or suffer alone. Almost two decades ago I was in a dark place with anorexia nervosa. I could have never imagined all that Christ had in store for my life. Even in our darkest places, Christ sees us. 

When we can’t see past our struggles, He can. Because of God’s past faithfulness, we can trust His current faithfulness, even when tracing His goodness in the circumstances seems hard. May your hopelessness be filled abundantly through Christ and His goodness, resting in the promise that He can redeem even your deepest valleys.

Originally published at Church Answers 

 

Sarah Rainer earned her masters and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology. She specialized in child and adolescent psychology during her years of practice. In 2018, Sarah left the field of psychology in order to pursue full-time ministry. Sarah serves as a leader in women’s discipleship at her church, while consulting with families struggling with their children. She is the wife to Art Rainer, and the mom to three rambunctious and fun boys.

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