Last week, I released the first episode of the Local Church Leader podcast (LISTEN HERE). It is a discussion with Dr. Mark Jones about how God loved him out of depression and anxiety through a daily time of devotion. The response has been overwhelming and the episode has been listened to by leaders all around the globe. Clearly the topic is an important one, which is why I decided to write on how we can help leaders in overcoming their mental health struggles.
MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES AREN'T NEW
Mental health issues have been around for a long time and many church leaders in the past have struggled with depression, anxiety and fear. Great leaders such as Charles Spurgeon and Martin Luther were men who accomplished great feats for the Kingdom of God but often suffered in silence. Some leaders today suffer in the same way, often keeping silent about their struggle only to experience the dramatic and painful consequences of ignoring the alarm bells going off in their head. Ministry burnout, sexual affairs, pornography addictions, substance abuse and in some cases...suicide.
My heart is deeply grieved every time I hear another story of a church leader burning out or in the recent case of pastor and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson, taking their own life. I am certainly no expert on mental health and I acknowledge that this is much more complicated than I can possibly cover in one blog post. But here is what I do know...we need to be talking about it and having greater awareness of those who struggle. It is critical we allow space for healthy conversation to take place around the area of mental health struggles in the leaders around us. For the emotional well-being of our churches and ministries and for the sake of the people we lead, including our own families, it is time to start taking action. If you are struggling with emotional health issues at all or you know someone who is struggling, here are 7 keys that will help you begin to overcome and find freedom in the struggle...
1. UNDERSTAND YOU AREN'T ALONE.
The devil is a liar. And one of his greatest lies is to try and convince you that you are alone in your struggle with depression, burnout, worry and anxiety...which shouldn't come as a surprise considering he is the father of lies (John 8:44).
However, nothing could be further from the truth. There are many other leaders just like you who are facing the same level of struggle that you are. In fact, Matthew Stanford, who is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor university would suggest that as many as "one out of every four pastors is depressed."
Just understanding you aren't alone in the struggle is the first step in coming out of it.
2. STOP PRETENDING YOU ARE OKAY.
I think there is a certain level of guilt that leaders feel when struggling with mental health. I think somewhere deep inside we feel like we are failing as a believer or a leader if we admit that we wrestle with depression or anxiety. So instead of getting help we continue pretending that we are okay.
It's time to stop pretending.
You are not a failure, you aren't letting God down and you aren't letting your people down by admitting you aren't okay. Far better to stop and get the help you need now rather than continuing down the same path and getting deeper into the struggle.
3. DON'T REMAIN SILENT.
Pick up your cell phone right now. Go to your contacts, find the friend you trust more than anything and give them a call. Tell them you need some help. Ask them to stand by you as you walk this out. Say something to somebody, say anything...but whatever you do, don't say nothing.
If they are really the friend you think they are, they won't abandon you in your hour of need, but will draw close to you. They will surround you with prayer, accountability and encouragement. That's what friends do.
If you are that friend and someone has reached out to you for help. Here are a few things you should consider doing...
a. Pray with them and for them.
b. Help them build a game plan for recovery with small actionable steps.
c. Help them find a counselor.
d. Encourage them.
e. Take time to check in on them on a regular basis.
4. BALANCE OVER BUSYNESS
In our fast paced culture, busyness is worn as a badge of honour, but it is often at the root of burnout and depression. Our bodies and our minds are not designed to run at a high pace for too long or else they will start breaking down. Now, some leaders may be able to run longer and harder than others, but every leader will have issues unless they bring some balance into their life. One of the ways you can find strength and life again is to work hard at finding balance.
For me, that personal balance comes in the form of 3 "tanks" which I always try to keep full. First is the tank of exercise, second is the tank of recreation/rest and third is the tank of spiritual life. I try to keep all of these tanks full and monitor each tank weekly. If I'm feeling drained, maybe I just need to go to the gym and get some endorphins going, or maybe I just need to go see a movie. Maybe I need to take an extra day off and work on some projects at home or maybe I need to dig into my time with the Lord.
The key is to monitor these tanks and do your best to keep them filled. You don't want to go too long with any of those tanks on empty or it will end up costing you.
5. BUILD HEALTHY HABITS
Balance in life is important, but so are healthy habits. It is easy to fall into the trap of overworking, making excuses for not taking that day off, not exercising at all, not getting the sleep you need. A healthy mind begins with a healthy body that is built around healthy habits. Here are a few habits we all should be working on...
a. Take a regular Sabbath.
b. Eat healthier.
c. Get out and exercise.
d. Leave work earlier.
e. Take more naps. Yes, take naps. Your body needs rest!
f. Go to bed earlier.
g. Schedule breaks from social media.
h. Work on building healthy relationships.
i. Date your spouse more.
6. CHANGE THE WORDS YOU SPEAK ABOUT YOURSELF.
No two cases are the same of course, but a common denominator with mental health struggles has to do with what people believe and say about themselves. If you begin to change what you say to yourself about yourself and your calling you will begin to find hope and strength again.
A great resource we have on our page HERE is the surrender prayer Dr. Mark Jones has written as a tool to help you surrender to the Lord daily in all areas. I would encourage you to download it to your phone and use it daily in your personal time with the Lord.
7. BE ENCOURAGED BY THE SUCCESS OF OTHERS.
You need to know that you are not alone in your battle, but you also need to be aware that others in your position have gotten through the battle and are now walking in victory!
I would encourage you to read up on those who have come through what you are currently facing and learn from their example.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Please leave a comment below and share your journey or the lessons you have learned along the way.