What should clergy know?
Members of the clergy play an important role in the community, and are in a unique position to offer solace and guidance to those who are experiencing difficulties in their lives.
The burden of depression is considerable: it affects approximately one in four women and one in eight men during their lifetime. A person might experience depression as a response to a recent loss, trauma or bereavement or may have longstanding vulnerabilities stemming from early experiences or biological risk factors. This section will provide more information on the relationship between faith and depression, the signs and symptoms of depression, and what you, as a clergy member, can do to help someone experiencing depression and suicidal behaviour.
Depression is not only "feeling unwell"
Depression is more than just temporarily feeling unwell or low due to a specific cause. It is a medical disorder that requires professional help and can be treated. Sometimes it is not easy to differentiate between feelings of sadness anyone experiences from time to time and a depressive disorder.
The important distinctive features are personal suffering and negative impact in social, interpersonal and work life, lasting for more than 2 weeks.
Also, doctors and psychologists will use a list of symptoms to assess if a patient attains diagnostic criteria.
Depression and religion
Depression is an illness that can affect anybody, including people with an established faith. Suicide risk does seem to be lower in persons who are actively involved in religious activities compared to those who are not. However, any inference of cause and effects is speculative.
Depressed patients who are engaged in religious groups have reported that they do not derive comfort from their faith to the same extent, that they do not feel linked to their faith the way they did and that they have stopped finding energy through their spirituality. In this regard, the question might arise of whether their depression was caused by a disconnection from religious faith.
However, based on clinical research, it is usually the other way around. Loss of interest, joy and closeness to others are some of the core symptoms of depression. This affects all areas of life equally so that patients suffering from depression often lose access to their faith.
In any case, the assistance of a pastor or church member throughout the period of depression treatment can be helpful and supportive to foster the recovery process.