Help for the Holidays
’Tis the season to be … what? Grateful? Jolly? Joyful? For many, it’s the season to be depressed.
Yes, we’d all like to feel thankful sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner with loved ones or celebrating the joy of the Nativity, but the sad fact is that the holiday season can be a time of loneliness, anxiety and depression. For some, these feelings come from not being able to spend time with family and friends. For others, they come from spending too much time with family and friends, and becoming stressed by entertaining. Some people are dragged down by financial constraints, and others feel the pressure of unrealistic expectations about gifts given and received. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) brought on by fewer hours of daylight can also be a factor in holiday depression.
Pastors may be the first professional whom deeply troubled people approach for help, but in-depth therapy isn’t necessarily their calling. Keep in mind the advice that Clint Eastwood gave at the end of one of his Dirty Harry movies: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” That initial call for help can lead to a referral to a pastoral psychotherapist — counselors who combine respect for spiritual beliefs with training in psychotherapy. Many are ordained ministers, although the profession also includes clinical psychologists and licensed clinical social workers, among others. All have a commitment to performing high-quality psychotherapy in a context of faith and theology.
There is still some work to be done, however, in strengthening this link between faith and psychology. One developmental psychologist and church member says that she has not found pastors to be particularly comfortable responding to mental health issues within the church. She looks around the congregation on Sunday mornings and knows of many cases of suffering due to mental health issues, especially among youth. She waits to hear names called out for prayers for youth she knows have been hospitalized, but the prayer requests don’t often come.
Pastors can help destigmatize conditions such as depression by lifting them up in prayer alongside requests for help with physical healing — although many people won’t want to have a psychiatric struggle made public. Still, it is important to find ways to communicate about these issues, since depression remains an enormous problem, and suicide often makes the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States.
Only 30 percent of people with significant mental illness receive any form of treatment, so pastors have to do more to recognize risk factors and make the necessary referrals. As front-line caregivers, pastors are in an excellent position to help more people to get treated — a recent government-sponsored survey revealed that those who seek treatment typically do so after nearly 10 years of delays.
Let’s do what we can to help so there will be less depression in this season of celebration.
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