How your parish can help those suffering from depression


During Holy Week 2016, an obituary written by a woman in Duluth, Minnesota caught national media attention.

Eleni Pinnow wrote the obituary for her young adult sister Aletha.

She began, “Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth (formerly of Oswego and Chicago, Illinois) died from depression and suicide on February 20, 2016.”

There it was, front and center: Aletha died from depression.

Eleni went on to write how her “hilarious, kind, loving sister couldn’t see any of that in herself.”

Depression created an “impenetrable fortress that blocked the light, preventing the love of her friends, her family, and any sense of comfort and confidence from reaching her.”

She says depression “lied” to her sister. It told her she was “worthless.”

But that was so far from the case. Eleni had to tell the truth.

As a pastoral minister, I do, too.

I have seen depression rack people—family, friends, colleagues, college students, and people in my parish.

Church communities need to bring depression out of the dark, expose it as the dangerous disorder it is, and then work on ways to care for people going through it.

The National Institute of Mental Health labels depression a “common but serious mood disorder.”

Their research indicates 350 million people—or 5 percent of the world’s population—suffer from it each year.

A 2014 study by Paul E. Greenberg and colleagues found the estimated costs of depression in the United States are over $210 billion.

A pastoral response to depression requires more than just listening

Clinical psychologist Rudy Nydegger describes depression as an “equal opportunity disorder” that “can affect anyone of any group, background, race, gender, age—anyone.”

Emotionally, depression may make a person feel sad, worthless, or empty.

Behaviorally, a person experiencing depression may lack energy or motivation to engage daily tasks.

Cognitively, depression can make it difficult to focus at work or in school.

A friend experiencing depression describes it as a cycle.

He says, “Some days are good, some days are not so good, but the cycle never relents.”

Another colleague says depression makes him feel “lonely, unlovable, and de-energized.”

Diagnosing depression is challenging.

There is a wide spectrum of symptoms that people experience at various levels of intensity for a host of reasons.

A person may feel irritable, tired, and uninterested in a hobby she previously enjoyed. Is this part of the “normal” rhythm of life or could there be an abnormal medical issue going on?

If left untreated, depression can lead to severe isolation, substance abuse, or even death, as with Aletha.

How can parish communities be proactive in ministering to people who may be depressed?

Let’s consider three common stigmas associated with people with depression and explore how people of faith can respond. Continue reading

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News category: Features.

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