6 Survival Tips for Pastors with Depression

I’m not sure if it is because it is mental health awareness month, or if we are all just feeling the end of the school year pressure, but there are a lot of pastors out there right now who are really struggling with depression and other mental illnesses. Thirteen years ago I was diagnosed with major clinical depression. It’s been a long road that has included being suicidal, going on disability, and eventually taking a call to another congregation. So in the interest of all those who struggle with me, here are a few tips from one who has been there.

  • Take it a day at a time. One of the tricks of the depression brain is that it always wants you to globalize. Globalizing means taking one bad experience and using that as the lens through which you look at the rest of your life. One parishioner complains because you didn’t see them, and all the sudden you’ve convinced yourself that you’re about to be removed from your congregation. Resist the urge to make sweeping self-judgments. It’s not easy, I know. But by focusing on one day at a time, it can keep you in the here and now, and not talk yourself into more nonsense.
  • Think process, not outcome. What I mean by that is that the steps you take every day as a pastor, the things you do, may not feel like much. Making that shut-in visit doesn’t seem like a victory. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I would say “BE their pastor, don’t DO their pastor.” By focusing on individual steps and the process, it can free you to think of each step as a gift and a victory of God’s mercy, and not just a false step toward failure.
  • Plan for down time. Learn your own triggers and limits, and try as much as possible to plan for them. If you know you will be exhausted and useless after making a certain visit, then give yourself permission to rest. God rested. It’s okay for you, too.
  • Bring community with you. For me, it is the one-on-one visits that are often the hardest. That level of attention and emotional energy drains it right out of me. So why not bring the church with you? A deaconess, an elder, even someone who just likes to visit can be a huge help when you are feeling drained. You bring Christ to your people. Why not bring the Bride?
  • Recognize what is causing you the most stress and anxiety, and deal with that first. This is a hard one, because it goes against what our depression brain and our own lazy nature might want. But by tackling it right away, that allows you time to recover, and may reduce your stress level for the rest of the week.
  • Do an emotional inventory or journal. I find that if I pay a little bit of attention to self-evaluation, that often can help me identify what is really making things bad. Journaling helps a lot with this, but if that sounds too hippy, thing of it as an emotional inventory.

These are the ones that occur to me on a Thursday night. What are some of your best tips for pastoring with depression?

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