Overcoming depression

Being in a bad mood or feeling miserable from time to time is normal. It may be caused by stress at work or personal difficulties but it may just happen as part of day to day life. If your mood is persistently low, you can’t motivate yourself to do things you would normally do, you’re finding it difficult to concentrate or your thoughts have become persistently negative, you could have depression.

What is depression?

Depression is a name given to a cluster of symptoms which impair daily functioning and which trouble people in mind, body and spirit.  There are many causes of depression.  For example;

  • ­ You may have experienced something to trigger having a depression for example a recent bereavement, a separation or divorce, a prolonged illness, a change of job or home
  • ­ You may have experienced something traumatic in your past such as sexual abuse which is a significant aspect of having depression. 
  • ­ You may have suffered postnatal depression. 

Sometimes symptoms of depression arise without explanation.

How having a depression affects you and your ministry

When priests fail to live up to demands imposed by themselves or others they often turn their frustration back on themselves, leading to self-doubt, feelings of failure and hopelessness.  This can lead to having a depression. Clergy sometimes fail to talk about depression because it conflicts with their understanding of their faith and ministry.

Depression is not uncommon!

It is important to remember that depression is common amongst those in clergy.  This has been shown in a range of studies which showed the following results;

  • ­ A quarter of clergy admit to suffering from depression at some point in their career1
  • ­ More than 30% of clergy say they suffered from depression since becoming a priest or vicar, with 43% admitting to working too hard1.
  • ­ 18% to 25% of all ministers are depressed at any one time2.

Most counsellors agree the majority of clergy depression goes unreported and untreated because of career fears, social stigma and spiritual taboo.  It is widely documented by his biographers that Martin Luther King suffered from chronic depression.

Depression and faith

Many a minister has been known to ask “How can I be depressed when I have a strong vocation and believe in God’s love?”

Christians have a range of thoughts and perspectives when battling with this question:

  • ­ Some think that their faith or calling should act as an inoculation against mental and emotional distress such as a depression. 
  • ­ Sometimes there is the expectation that spiritual activities such as praying, reading the Bible more or working harder will help to prevent or get over a depression. This is rarely the case as it only adds to the pressure. 
  • ­ Having a depression can be viewed as your mind telling you that something needs to change either internally or externally.
  • ­ Depression has been described as a form of mental hibernation in order for something new to emerge.
  • ­ A crisis such as having depression can be viewed as a holy summons to cross a threshold.

It is important to take encouragement from the Biblical characters who experienced depression; for example Elijah, the Psalmist, Paul and yet who were also effective in their ministry.

Read more about biblical references to depression.

Overcoming depression

The first step is to recognise depression.  You may have depression if:

  • ­ Your mood is persistently low over two or three weeks
  • ­ You can’t motivate yourself to do things you would normally do
  • ­ You’re finding it difficult to concentrate
  • ­ Your thoughts have become persistently negative

It is also common for the sex life of someone who is depressed to be affected.

Taking action

The next step is to act and put the following principles into practice:

  • ­ If you notice these negative changes persisting it’s time to do something
  • ­ Don’t allow an illness to develop just hoping it will go away
  • ­ Ask for help!
  • ­ Review your stress levels over a period of time
  • ­ Consult a doctor or psychological health specialist as soon as convenient
  • ­ If the difficulties do not resolve do not delay in seeking professional help

Taking the above steps will start a process of monitoring you and treating you for depression before it becomes severe.  Depression is very treatable. Research has shown that when therapy is combined with medication, there is a 90 percent successful treatment rate.

There are many difference ways forward with depression; Self help, Talking treatments and Medication with antidepressants. 

Self Help

Self-help methods of overcoming depression can include:

  • ­ Increasing your levels of exercise.  This is known to stimulate endorphins which have a positive effect on mood. 45 – 60 minutes 3 times a week for 10 -12 weeks
  • ­ Reading self help leaflets, books, internet programmes based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles and techniques

Talking Treatments

There are various types of counselling and therapy, which one is appropriate for you will depend on the factors involved in your depression.

  • ­ Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps identify unrealistic and unhelpful ways of thinking and then develop new, more helpful ways of thinking and behaving
  • ­ Psychodynamic counselling helps you to see how your past experiences may be affecting your life now.
  • ­ Bereavement Counselling helps when you are struggling after someone close to you has died
  • ­ Couple counselling helps if your depression seems to be linked with your relationship
  • ­ Problem Solving counselling this helps you clarify key problems, break them down into manageable parts and develop problem solving skills.

Medication with antidepressants


  • ­ Are usually prescribed for severe or long lasting depression
  • ­ Will take 2 -3 weeks before being fully effective
  • ­ Will decrease anxiety after a few days
  • ­ Will improve sleep patterns after a few days 
  • ­ Are normally taken for about 6 months after you start to feel better
  • ­ Are not addictive but need to be withdrawn slowly
  • ­ May produce side effects which are usually minimal and short term
  • ­ If side effects persist then a different drug can be tried
  • ­ It sometimes takes time to find the specific drug and dose to suit the individual
  1. Dr Douglas Turton (2010), ‘Clergy Burnout and Emotional Exhaustion: A Socio-Psychological Study of Job Stress and Job Satisfaction’, The Edwin Mellen Press.
  2. H.B. London, Vice president for pastoral ministries at Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs.
Helpful Resources: 
  • MIND the charity for mental health have very useful information about depression including case studies and information on symptoms, causes and treatment options.
  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists produces helpful leaflets on depression intended for anyone who is or has been depressed, their friends and relatives.  Particularly they have useful information on postnatal depression.
  • The Churches Ministerial Counselling Service offers a professional, confidential independent counselling service to clergy and their households.
  • The Depression Alliance is a specialist organisation supporting people with depression. 
  • First Signs – A resource that has personal testimonies, regular newsletters, links to a message board and information about research.
  • The Christian Medical Fellowship produce a helpful article on biblical references to depression.