Depression and Suicide in the Church

Dave Wiedis, Copyright 2018

Most of us have been impacted by depression and suicide, and those of us in ministry perhaps even more so. We have walked alongside people suffering from depression, we have grieved with those mourning losses from suicide, and we have suffered in dark seasons ourselves.

People who have never experienced depression find it difficult to understand. When they hear someone is depressed, they often try to talk the person out of it by force of logic. Sometimes depression arises from circumstances; sometimes it is biologically based. When one is depressed it can be like wearing dark sunglasses. No matter how bright the sunlight is, the dark glasses dim the light so no matter what, it is still dark. When one is depressed, all of the “data” is filtered through those dark glasses, so it does not help to reason or tell someone to look on the bright side.

Awareness of mental health issues such as depression must grow in the church. Ministers of the gospel must take the lead here. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves about depression and suicide and get equipped to minister to deeply hurting people. And those in ministry must be just as diligent and compassionate with our own souls.

Pastors and ministry leaders can be particularly susceptible to depression, as Phil Ryken has bravely discussed in his battle with depression. Combine the high pressure of the calling, the external pressures to be the one everyone looks to for guidance and help, the one who has “it all together,” with the internal perfectionistic standards many ministry leaders have and you have the potential to experience depression. According to Lifeway Research: “84 percent [of pastors] say they’re on call 24 hours a day, 80 percent expect conflict in their church, 54 percent find the role of pastor frequently overwhelming” (Pastor Protection Research Study).

Further, pastors witness a lot of suffering--called secondary trauma--and many do not give themselves access to the help they need to process their experiences. Pastors hear stories, visit people who are sick and dying, and deal with the chronically poor. It can be overwhelming.

I want to share with you an impactful article on the subject of depression and suicide in the Church by Christian writer Eric Metaxas. He describes the heartbreaking story of a young pastor's suicide and emphasizes the need for empathy and education: A Pastor’s Suicide, An All-too Familiar Story.

My hope is to encourage you to delve into this important issue. Do you need to learn more? Do you need help, yourself? Please feel free to contact us if we can come alongside you in any way. In addition, ServingLeaders also offers an equipping seminar for churches and leadership teams entitled "Leading Through Issues of Depression and Suicide."

For more more information on depression, here is an interview I did with Pastor Phil Carnuccio and his wife as they candidly discussed their experience with depression, entitled “Hope in Depression Part 1”, and a sermon I preached as part of that same series “Hope in Depression Part 2.”