Divinity School looks to battle depression

October 10, 2013

By Carleigh Stiehm | October 3, 2013

A study conducted by the Clergy Health Initiative found that pastors are at a much higher risk for depression than the general population.

In a survey that reached over 95 percent of United Methodist clergy members in North Carolina, 11.1 percent of pastors displayed signs of depression, compared to 5.5 percent of the general population nationally.

In light of these findings, the Duke Divinity School is focusing on equipping its graduates for the unique pressures of their chosen career path.

Putting others first

“[Pastors] give the inspirational message each week, they give out the support,” said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, research director of the Clergy Health Initiative. “The relationship is very much one way. That’s a very high burden for pastors to carry.”

The study, which examines the physical impact of leading a life in the clergy, was conducted via survey and telephone interviews in 2008 but continues to be ongoing.

“We still don’t know if pastors come in with bad health or if being a pastor creates poor health,” Proeschold-Bell said.

She said, however, that the findings point to the pressures of a career in the ministry as the cause of depression.

Highly active members of a congregation often find great comfort and unity in their religious community, but the situation is often reserved for pastors, Proeschold-Bell said.

In pursuing their calling to serve the Lord—who they view as a perfect being—some pastors feel they are not good enough to serve. She said that some pastors "hopelessly" pursue the perfection of God, as they believe they were made in His image.

“It is very common when people are depressed for them to feel like they are not worthy,” Proeschold-Bell said. “It is easy to feel criticized and down on yourself.”

Divinity School student government president Erik Greyson, who is preparing for ordination in the United Methodist Church, said that he felt a “strong, exciting calling” to serve the Lord through his church.

“This is a passion that in some ways consumes us. We are working on creating communities and working in communities that love God and love other people,” Greyson said.

He added that it is very easy to become overly committed to your work in the ministry.

“That is a great thing, but it also means that we have to work on having healthy boundaries—not just for ourselves but for the people we are going to serve,” Greyson said.

“Pastors’ entire identity is wrapped up in their work,” Proeschold-Bell said. “They worry that they are failing God."

Read the entire article that appeared in the October 3, 2013 edition of the Chronicle of Duke University