Clergy more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety

August 28, 2013, Duke University
Clergy more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety

The demands placed on clergy by themselves and others put pastors at far greater risk for depression than individuals with other occupations, a new study by the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School has found.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Primary Prevention, compared the mental of 95 percent of the United Methodist clergy in North Carolina (1,726 pastors) to a of Americans and identified key factors that predict and . Clergy participants were predominantly male (75 percent) and white (91 percent); the mean age was 52 years old.

The study, conducted in 2008, found the depression rate among clergy to be 8.7 percent when responses were limited to telephone interviews that closely approximated the conditions of a (the 2005-06 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey study). However, among clergy taking the survey via Web or paper, the rate of depression was even higher: 11.1 percent—double the then national rate of 5.5 percent.

Anxiety rates among clergy were 13.5 percent (no comparable U.S. rate was available). More than 7 percent of clergy simultaneously experienced depression and anxiety.

A number of factors were found to be powerful predictors of depression and anxiety, most notably job stress. Clergy engage in many stressful activities, including grief counseling, navigating the competing demands of congregants, and delivering a weekly sermon that opens them up to criticism. The strain of these roles is further amplified by having to switch rapidly between them, which other studies have shown to exacerbate .

Furthermore, the study found that pastors' sense of guilt about not doing enough at work was a top predictor of depression, and that doubt of their call to ministry was a top predictor of anxiety. Pastors with less social support—those who reported feeling socially isolated—were at higher risk for depression.

By contrast, pastors reporting greater satisfaction with their ministry were half as likely to qualify for depression or anxiety.

"Pastors may have created a life for themselves that is so strongly intertwined with their ministry, that their emotional health is dependent on the state of their ministry," said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, the Clergy Health Initiative's research director, and assistant research professor at the Duke Global Health Institute. "So it's possible that when pastors feel their ministry is going well, they experience positive emotions potent enough to buffer them from mental distress. Of course, the converse is also true."

The rates reflected in this survey represent the percentage of individuals who reported symptoms of depression and anxiety over the previous two weeks only. It is probable that a far higher percentage of clergy experience depression or anxiety at some point during a lifetime spent in ministry, Proeschold-Bell said.

"It's common for public health professionals to ask pastors to offer health programming to their congregants," said Proeschold-Bell. "These findings tell us that we need to reverse course and consider how to attend to the mental health of pastors themselves."

While pastors can proactively take steps to bolster their mental health—by taking vacation and Sabbath time, fostering friendships outside the church and seeking counseling—there are many ways for others to support these efforts, too, Proeschold-Bell said.

Seminaries can train their students to anticipate competing demands on their time and negotiate conflict. Denominational officials can praise clergy for their efforts, particularly when those pastors are serving churches roiled in conflict. And congregants can support their pastors by volunteering for tasks and following through on commitments, letting pastors know when they are moved by their work, and making it possible for pastors to take time away from the church.

The research is part of a longitudinal study conducted in 2008, 2010 and 2012; it is scheduled to continue in 2014 and 2016. The 2010 data yielded no significant changes to depression and anxiety rates found in the 2008 data. The data from 2012 is still being studied. Additional information about the Clergy Health Initiative and its research is available online at

Explore further: Health interventions for clergy must counteract need to put others first

More information: … %2Fs10935-013-0321-4

Related Stories

Health interventions for clergy must counteract need to put others first

June 28, 2012
Clergy's practice of putting others first can be detrimental to their own health, say researchers at Duke University.

Clergy can fight HIV on faith-friendly terms

May 16, 2012
The public health community has long struggled with how best to reduce HIV infection rates among black Americans, which is seven times that of whites. In a new paper in the journal PLoS ONE, a team of physicians and public ...

Anxiety, depression common in adults with arthritis

July 9, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Anxiety and depression are both common among U.S. adults with arthritis, with anxiety found more often than depression, according to a study published in the July issue of Arthritis Care & Research.

Most cancer survivors have good psychological outcomes

June 30, 2013
(HealthDay)—Certain factors predict anxiety, depression, and comorbid anxiety-depression at one year in adult cancer survivors, according to research published online June 17 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Childhood tummy aches may be tied to adult anxiety, depression

August 12, 2013
(HealthDay)—Stomach pain is a common childhood complaint, and now a new study suggests it may place some kids at higher risk for anxiety disorders or depression as adults.

Study tracks depression in seniors, ethnic groups

July 10, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Major depression is a serious public health problem among older adults in the United States, but tends to affect ethnic groups differently, finds new research led by a Michigan State University scholar.

Recommended for you

Short-course treatment for combat-related PTSD offers expedited path to recovery

January 23, 2018
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating and standard treatment can take months, often leaving those affected unable to work or care for their families. But, a new study demonstrated that many ...

Social and emotional skills linked to better student learning

January 23, 2018
Students with well-developed and adaptive social and emotional behaviours are most likely to excel in school, according to UNSW researchers in educational psychology.

Priming can negate stressful aspects of negative sporting environments, study finds

January 23, 2018
The scene is ubiquitous in sports: A coach yells at players, creating an environment where winning is the sole focus and mistakes are punished. New research from the University of Kansas shows that when participants find ...

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.