Depression and Suicide are real and both have real effects. Further people from all walks of life struggle with depression and some with thoughts of suicide. This is the reality, to deny this reality is both foolish and dangerous.
According to a recent Gallup poll (2023), about 18% of Americans say they are depressed and/or receiving treatment for depression. Similarly, according to a Lifeway Research study conducted in April 2021, 18% or nearly 1 in 5 pastors struggle with some level of depression. This is up from a Duke Divinity Study conducted in 2013 finding that 8.7 pastors struggle with depression. This is a 10% increase. Having depression is stigmatized in our world, so I believe the actual percentage is higher. Sadly, this is especially true with pastors, whom we put on such a high pedestal. Depression is on the rise for all types of people including pastors.
The problem is depression is seen as a weakness, a defect, and a lack of faith. Some would foolishly say that pastors who battle depression are unqualified and disqualified from ministry. To this, I say, “hogwash”. At absolute best this sentiment is unhelpful. If battling depression makes a pastor unqualified and disqualified, many pastors past and present would be disqualified. For instance, the famed pastor and preacher who has been proclaimed as the ‘Prince of Preachers’ Charles Haddon Spurgeon dealt with awful depression throughout most of his life. During one of his sermons entitled “The Christian’s Heaviness and Rejoicing” he stated, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.” Even King David said in Psalm 42:5a, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me (ESV)?” Let me be as direct as possible, depression is not a weakness, a defect, nor a sign of a lack of faith. Period.
To my point, I’m concerned for pastors because I believe that the 18% statistic is higher and I’m also coming across more and more stories of pastors committing suicide, one just this past week. During a conversation with my wife this week after one such story that hit closer to home, I heart-wrenchingly said, “It’s not the first, nor will it be the last.” It is real and has real effects.
Let me give you four thoughts when it comes to depression and suicide.
- The church is to be for people, including broken people.
We have an issue, the church is to be about loving people with the love of Jesus, it is to be about ministering, encouraging, and bearing one another’s burdens. Galatians 6:2 tells us to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ (NASB).” Yet so often we shame those who are broken and are seeking healing. Maybe this is because their brokenness shines a light on our own brokenness, so we want to push them away. Maybe we are trying to make ourselves feel better because “I’m not as bad as that person.” Either way, we shame them, demonize them, make them feel like a defect, and make them feel like they will never measure up.
My brothers and sisters, stop it. Repent for this un-Christlike behavior. Conduct a heart check. This behavior is not the character of a mature believer and follower of Jesus. In the Bible we see Jesus saying in Matthew 11:28-30, “‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (ESV).” We see Jesus have compassion. We see Jesus lift people up and not put them down.
My friends, we have a choice. We can either minister to people and love on people with the love of Jesus, even those who are broken; or we can turn our backs. My vote is we would be like Jesus.
Before I move on, let me encourage us in one more way with this point. So often when we see a person go through a metaphorical train wreck and are broken, we not only ostracize and isolate, but we also gossip. To this point, we light up the phone lines. Yet, I encourage us to light up the phone lines, not to gossip but to pray, to encourage, and to support. Remember what Jesus did, let us be like Jesus.
- We are taught to pretend, so let’s be real.
When we greet one another, so often we ask, “How are you doing?” As you know this isn’t really a real question. It is the expected question or greeting and it comes along with the expected response, “Good”. I have no doubt that this is oftentimes the case, but I also have no doubt this response is as fake as monopoly money. We are taught to pretend and to pretend even harder when things are not going well.
When I think about this I think about what I call the ‘Facebook world’. There is no shortage of people acting like they are living their best life, when in reality their life is a house of cards in an earthquake.
Oftentimes we live our lives with a mask on and with the slogan ‘Fake it until you make it’ especially when the life blues gets more serious and starts to move more toward actual depression.
I wonder what would happen if we as believers and as a church stop pretending and be real with one another. What would happen if when we see through the mask as we ask that go-to question, “How are you doing?”, with the reciprocated expected answer, “Good”, we calming and compassionately said, “Now that is over, how are you really doing?” In my experience when I do this, there is at first a startled look, but then a wave of relief rolls.
No one is perfect and no one is always perfect, let’s be real. Let me say that again with a slight change: Pastor no one is perfect and no one is always perfect, let’s be real (note the word of wisdom in #4).
- We pour out, so let’s replenish.
Pastor, you pour out and you pour out and you pour out. You have been taught to do this and you have been given unrealistic expectations to constantly pour out.
Think about it this way, imagine you have a pitcher of tea or water or coffee. Now imagine you take that pitcher and you pour one cup, two cups, and ten cups, you will eventually run into a problem. Without refilling and replenishing, you will run out, you will empty out. It is a simple reality and truth. To keep pouring, you have to keep replenishing. The math doesn’t work any other way.
As you replenish, I want to encourage you to think about replenishing spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
- Spiritually- Tell me about your time with Jesus, as you spend time praying and in the Word. I’m not talking about the time you spend preparing for a sermon or a teaching. I’m talking about you sitting down daily with King Jesus as you spend time in personal devotions, prayer, and simply listening. I’m happy that you are spending time preparing for that teaching, but it isn’t the same and the motivation isn’t the same. One is to pour and the other is to soak and replenish. In John 15:5, Jesus tells us, “‘I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (NASB).” Jesus said that He is the vine and that we are the branches attached to that vine. The vine is the source of substance and life. If we break the branch off from the vine, the branch will and always will, wilt, whither, and die. My dear pastor soak and replenish with time with Jesus that has the singular aim of spending time with Him.
- Physically/Mentally- Are you getting proper rest? Are you eating as you should? Are you exercising and moving around as you should? I know you are busy. I also know that if you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of your people. I also know, that if you don’t take care of yourself with proper rest etc. very few people in your life will encourage you toward this, more often than not, most people will ask you to keep pouring.
- Emotionally/Mentally- Do you have any hobbies? What do you do for fun? How do you unplug? You have to have something to unwind, slow down, and breathe. I’m not saying for you to be lazy, but I am saying to take some time to unplug. Even unplugging for a few moments to an hour is hugely beneficial.
- There is help for depression, seek it.
When we are living with the ‘blues’ or even mild depression, there are some things we can do on our own to work through those times. BUT when we move past mild depression, we are no longer in a place where we can work through it alone, we need help. Think about it this way, if you are walking around your yard and you take a wrong step and fall down into a ditch, assuming you didn’t hurt anything more than your feelings you have the tools to climb out of that hole with some of the replenishing points in #3. Now imagine with me, you are walking along and you fall into a pit that is too deep for you to climb out of. Without outside help i.e. someone else to help you climb out, you cannot and will not escape.
- Ask for help before you are in the pit. It’s easier to climb out of a ditch than a pit. The longer you wait to ask for help, the harder and longer it will take to heal.
- Talk to someone who is trusted. This is the word of wisdom I mentioned in #2. You know the people whom you can bare your soul to and those who you can’t. You have that 6th sense which I believe is the Holy Spirit prompting you. You can be real to the crowd, but be wise with whom you bare your soul too.
- A trusted pastor or other trusted person.
- A confidential and free call to 1-844-727-8671 which is a number to a counseling network provided by Focus on the Family and supported by North American Mission Board and GuideStone.
- Suicide and Crisis Lifeline which is another free and confidential resource by simply dialing 988.
- Emergency Room at your local hospital. If things go wrong and go wrong quickly and you are at a point of suicide go to the Emergency Room.
Pastor, if you are going through depression, I promise you that it is not the end. I also promise you that the hole you feel you are in is not as deep as you think. God is here in the thick of it, I am here friend in the thick of it. Please reach out, anytime.