What Pastors Can Do To Help Parishioners Suffering From Depression or Anxiety

Many of the clients I see not only struggle with depression and anxiety but they also feel guilty about it!

Christians that come to me for counseling sometimes believe that God must be disappointed in them. After all, if they were trusting God the way they should, then they wouldn’t have these problems, right?

The fact that they are seeking help (rather than just talking to God about it) feels more like a badge of shame rather than an emblem of courage. It underscores the sense of guilt and failure to be the man or woman of faith that they should be.

Of course, not all Christians who come to counseling think this way, but those who do compound their problems with condemnation that is not from God.

Fact is, the stigma among some believers of seeking counseling or mental health treatment still abounds.

Yet, consider a few facts about mental health.

  • Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder in the United States with 18.1% of the adult population struggling with some form of an anxiety disorder. [1]

  • An estimated that 19.5% of US adult population suffers from a mood disorder (includes Bi-Polar Disorder and Depressive Disorders).

  • Individuals may struggle with more than one disorder. It is common for those with anxiety to develop depression. It is also common for individuals who have a personality disorder to also struggle with anxiety or depression.

  • More serious mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder affect an estimated 1.1% and 2.9% of the population respectively.

So if the estimates are correct and if those attending church fit the averages, then nearly 1 in 5 adults sitting in a Sunday morning worship service struggles with anxiety, depression, or other illnesses listed above.

So what can an emotionally aware pastor do to help?

Perhaps one surprising model could be the Reformation leader Martin Luther. It is well documented that Luther experienced depression and counseled others who struggled with various mental and emotional issues.

The thing that’s remarkable: he wrote about his own struggles and those of others very openly, without condemnation.

Simply put, he realized that the struggle is real.

Here are a few ways that any pastor can acknowledge the painful realities many people, including believers, encounter.

  1. Talk about mental illness. After all, it is real and some of your parishioners struggle with it.

  2. Offer prayer for those struggling with loss, depression, fear, and worry.

  3. Provide scriptures that address mental and emotional struggles. Can’t think of any? Check out the Psalms!

  4. Post a list of resources and counseling agencies.

People do suffer, some agonizingly, with mental illness and emotional disorders. Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted. Let us be sure to do the same rather than add stigma to their problems.

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[1] National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/index.shtml