Due to stresses specific to their calling, pastors have a higher tendency to suffer from depression and anxiety than the average American, according to a recent study.
The Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School found that the depression rate among pastors was at 8.7 percent when responses were limited to telephone interviews, well above the national rate of 5.5 percent. When pastors responded via web or paper, however, the rate was even higher at 11.1 percent, double the national rate.
Feelings of stress were a top predictor of depression and anxiety, with pastors dealing with numerous stressful situations and being forced to switch rapidly between them. Doubting their call to ministry also impacted anxiety levels.
A sense of guilt at not doing enough and having less social support, those who reported feeling socially isolated, were at a higher risk for depression.
The findings, published last week in the Journal of Primary Prevention, focused on United Methodists in North Carolina. But it echoed the results of a 2011 Lifeway Research national study that found Protestant pastors, while feeling privileged, also fight discouragement and loneliness.
In that study, 98 percent of pastors agreed with the statement, “I feel privileged to be a pastor,” with 93 percent strongly agreeing. Only about 0.5 percent disagreed with the statement.
Yet more than half (55 percent) also agreed with the statement, “I find that it is easy to get discouraged,” and the same percentage say being in pastoral ministry makes them feel lonely at times.
“Pastors feel privileged, but clearly the reality of constant service can take its toll,” said Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research. “There is discouragement and loneliness in ministry.”
The study discovered that younger pastors and, perhaps ironically, those who lead a larger congregation were most likely to become discouraged and lonely.
Almost 40 percent of pastors 65 and older strongly disagreed that pastoral ministry made them feel lonely. For those ages 55-64, 29 percent strongly disagreed, along with 21 percent of those 45-54 and 19 percent of ages 18-44.
Of those with congregations averaging 250 attendees or more, 17 percent strongly disagreed that pastoral ministry makes them feel lonely at times. In comparison, 27 percent of pastors with churches of 100-249 strongly disagree with 32 percent of those whose churches are less than 50.
“Relationships matter and it appears that pastors value those friendships – particularly as they get older,” said Stetzer. “Older pastors, and I would add, younger pastors with wisdom, have developed more close friendships within their church and are less likely to be discouraged or lonely. This combination mirrors workplace studies that have shown more friendships at work correspond with higher satisfaction with a person’s job and life.”