A new study from Duke shows that clergy have a higher rate of anxiety and depression than the national average. The study, conducted by the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School, surveyed all United Methodist Clergy in North Carolina and found that their depression rate was 8.7 percent, which is higher than the national average of 5.5 percent. Anxiety rates were 13.5 percent.
The clergy sample was mostly male, overwhelmingly white (91%) and averaged 52 years old. While the depression rate was 8.7 percent for surveys conducted over the phone, written surveys found an 11.1 percent of depression, over double the national average.
Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, the Clergy Health Initiative's research director and assistant research professor at the Duke Global Health Institute, led the study and was able to trace the source of anxiety and depression to job stress brought on by certain factors: grief counseling, addressing the needs of the congregation and delivering a weekly sermon. Proeschold-Bell says that pastors often have a sense of guilt about not accomplishing enough and doubt their call to to the ministry, both of which also lead to higher anxiety.
"It's common for public health professionals to ask pastors to offer health programming to their congregants," Proeschold-Bell said in a statement from Duke. "These findings tell us that we need to reverse course and consider how to attend to the mental health of pastors themselves."
The study emphasizes the need for supportive policies and training for clergy in order to mitigate the risk of depression and anxiety, which can have harmful affects on physical and mental health.
The Clergy Health Initiative has also been active in researching physical health. They recently launched an outreach program called Spirited Life, which provides healthy eating and exercise consultations for Methodist clergy across the state. Some members of the clergy, like Pastor Charles Lindquist, have already seen dramatic improvements in their health as a result of their involvement with the program.
The study was published this week in the Journal of Primary Prevention.