A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How Pastors Can Minister to the Depressed

The holiday season is upon us. For many of us, it is a time of joy and celebration, of family gatherings and good times. But, there are more than a few persons who do not greet the coming celebrations with happiness; they dread this time of the year.

One of the things I have learned as a pastor over twenty five years, is that many people do not understand depression, whether it is brought on by the circumstances of life, or whether it is biological in nature, or a combination of both. Many years ago in a Bible study, I was part of a conversation when the subject turned to depression. There was a young woman in the group who had been battling clinical depression for some time. She had spoken to me on several occasions about her struggles. As we talked about it in our group, someone finally spoke up and said, "Well, I don't know why depressed people just can't get over it. Everybody has problems!" I glanced quickly over at the individual who suffered so; she was just staring at the floor.

Of course, people just don't get over being depressed, and we can unintentionally make things worse with our happy talk, which I am not suggesting we should abandon; we just need to be conscious that our words of joy and hope are not received in the way we desire by those who are currently seeing life through a world of despair. The biology of depression is no different from the biology of high cholesterol or the biology of high blood pressure, but few people see the brain as an organ in the same way as they understand the heart or the liver. Thus, some believe that clinical depression is more of a willful unwillingness to put mind over matter, than an inability to shake off the blues because of a chemical imbalance in the brain that is physiological in nature.

What can pastors do to be in ministry to those who are depressed?

First, pastors need to assist those not suffering from depression in understanding what is actually going on in reference to clinical depression. I am not suggesting preaching a sermon on the topic, but whenever opportunity permits, whether it is in a Bible study or some other church gathering, or in private conversation, we should educate people in the reality of clinical depression, so that they will hopefully abandon the myth that depression is something that someone can just "get over."

Second, pastors need to be available to speak with those suffering from depression and to be in relationship with them. Many parishioners who are so suffering will value having a caring and confidential relationship with their pastor.

Third, do not hesitate to refer the person to a good psychologist. Let that person determine if the individual needs to see a psychiatrist or a physician for medication. When I have been unable to persuade that individual to see a counselor, I ask him or her, at the very least, to make an appointment with the family physician in order to tell her or him what is happening.

Fourth, remember that the holiday season is the time of the year when people can suffer the most emotionally. There are people in your church who are depressed (though not clinically) because they are facing the holidays without the beloved spouse or child or parent. Do not let the busyness of the holiday season get in the way of visiting the parishioners who have lost loved ones since the previous holiday season. Your gesture of concern will be appreciated.

Fifth, where appropriate and possible, be in contact with the family members of the person of concern. Let them know of your interest and support. They may be able to direct on how you might assist specifically. You may also discover that some of those family members could use assistance as well.

Sixth, do not forget to offer special prayers for individuals in such a situation at this time of the year. Offer them up to God that in surrounding these individuals with God's grace, they will appreciate what the profound meaning of the holiday season means, not only for them, but for those whom they love and see no more this side of eternity.


doodlebugmom said...

thanks for posting this. I suffer from depression and am married to one of those "get over it" people, makes it especially hard.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for sharing that. I pray you find great joy in this holy season.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for this post. My wife suffers from clinical depression and I used to be in the "just get over it" category at first. After being with her for several years now, I have a totally different understanding and your advice in the post is spot on. Treatment often doesn't lead to full cures for clinical depression and support from a pastor or a church family can be a blessing.

One word of advice I would offer is if someone does know of somebody suffering from depression, resist the urge to try and fix them and just walk beside them as much as you can, but be prepared for some turmoil that you won't have any control over.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for the good word of advice.

Dunadan said...

Thank you, Allan. These are also important guidelines for those of us who are not pastors. A church sign I saw for a couple weeks on my commute - "WE ARE TOO BLESSED TO BE DEPRESSED" - illustrates the need to help our brothers & sisters understand.

Allan R. Bevere said...


There is a church in our town displaying the same sign. Unfortunate, I think.

Anonymous said...

Many Great preachers and powerful Christian writers, Spurgeon and Lewis come to mind, fought depression regularly. Faith is not a preventative.