Acknowledging the “common cold”

By Jennifer Antonsen

Did you know that many women in Canada are diagnosed with clinical depression at least once in their lifetime? In fact, psychologists say depression is the common cold of mental illness. Women who are most susceptible to depression include those who are urban dwellers, mothers of young children, under continual stress, and living with financial burdens. As a pastor’s wife, need I ask if any of these risk factors apply to you?

As a counsellor, I have become very aware that depression often has a great stigma attached to it in the church. I’ve heard comments such as: “Depression is a spiritual attack. One needs to read scripture and pray more…” or “Depression doesn’t happen to Christians. We have the joy of the Lord!”

Though it’s true, we do have the joy of the Lord, we also have to contend the “dark night of the soul.” Many Christians have this false notion that as believers we are somehow unsusceptible to the throes of depression or other mental illness. It is frustrating when I see guilt heaped onto an already burdened believer. Would we say such things to someone diagnosed with a thyroid imbalance or heart disease?

As a pastor’s wife, the stigmas and myths attached to depression can be intensified. Have you ever believed the lie that a life of ministry and serving the Lord cannot lead to an experience with depression? Have you bought into the myth that clergy families must look as though they have it all together? Thoughts like these are simply untrue. Because of these lies, however, pastor’s wives often won’t acknowledge their deep despair or allow themselves to recognize it in their families.

As Scripture reveals, there is no reason to disregard symptoms of depression. Go ahead and read these aloud:

“My tears have been my food day and night… Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? (Psalm 42).

“I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water. I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest.” (Job 3:24, 26).

“(Elijah) came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)

These are just a few of the Scriptures that immediately break down false perceptions of depression. Job was a man who was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1: 1) and yet he experienced such inner anguish that he could not even eat or sleep. Elijah, a servant used mightily by God, wanted to die. We learn that faithful people do struggle with discouragement and depression.

Knowing that God chose to include these stories in his Holy Word encourages me. It shows that not only does God acknowledge that we are vulnerable to symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts, but we can also be open about these experiences.

In 2004, we received over 375 calls to the Clergy Care Network from pastors and pastor’s wives. The vast majority of pastor’s wives called to talk about struggles they were facing in their marriages and with their children. If not dealt with, such stresses can become overwhelming and can lead to depression. A full 10 per cent of our calls were from people who admitted for the first time that they may be depressed. That 10 per cent is now on their way to healing! Acknowledgement is the first step to overcoming depression.

If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, we invite you to call us at the Clergy Care Network (1.888.5.CLERGY). We will offer a confidential and listening ear, a referral to a counsellor in your area, applicable resources, and/or prayer.

Many pastor’s wives will struggle with depression at one season or more in their lives. Be encouraged that many other Christian servants have struggled with thoughts of despair. I am confident that with proper treatment, in time you will be able to say:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:1-3a


Jennifer Antonsen is a professional counsellor on staff at Focus on the Family Canada.