Some men are so depressed that it’s their new normal.
Readership: Men; Single Men;
Theme: Faux-Masculine Archetypes
Length: 2,100 words
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Some readers might not consider the listless anhedonic male to be a widely recognized archetype of masculinity, but the fact is, it’s common enough that it deserves our consideration. Christian men and especially clergymen are especially prone to this, as we will read later, although they have every reason not to be. Clergymen are powerful Christian role models for younger men. So this post will examine depressed male Christians as a cohort archetype. We’ll also look at some influential factors related to this condition and some odd cognitions that depressed men use to justify their depression.
Men’s Mental Health
Men and women deal with stress and depression differently. Women are better able to verbalize their emotions, whereas men might not recognize their symptoms as depression, perhaps denying or hiding their unhappiness, so the illness is overlooked in men until it becomes more severe. Women tend to congregate with other women and support each other, whereas men tend to withdraw and are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol, which exacerbates their condition. Women are more likely to seek counseling or other professional help, whereas men are hesitant to do so.
It is suspected that the number of men having a mild form of clinical or chronic depression is underestimated.
- There are many men who are not downtrodden enough to recognize that they are depressed, nor would they seek counseling for depression. Others too might not recognize them as being depressed.
- Some men pride themselves on being able to pull themselves together in spite of the malaise and therefore cling to denial.
- Some men are so befuddled and terminally downcast that they have somehow managed to incorporate many traits and symptoms of depression into their personality. Thus, their condition is dismissed as “normal” and not properly regarded as depression.
As a consequence, these men lumber through their lives with long faces and a dour affect, they have low motivation, they give slow or listless responses, and they do this with such regular consistency that others find it challenging to even imagine them being in a state of joy.
The reasons for this vary on a case by case basis.
- Some of these men have had a difficult life since childhood. Even after discovering faith, they find that the immediate benefits of hope and joy are limited.
- Some men have grown up in a broken home, or an emotionless home with relationally cold parents, and therefore haven’t experienced the love and grace of God.
- Some of them have endured heart wrenching blows in their careers and marriages.
- Some men are discouraged to the point where they find it difficult to open their heart and be sufficiently trusting enough to display their inner joy, if they have any.
- Some men are disappointed and frustrated with love and the SMP/MMP.
- Some of these men are spergy and therefore angry, distrusting, paranoid, and depressed.
- Some men intentionally avoid exploring the bounds of their faith, because it leads them to get excited, anxious, and fearful about the fresh opportunities they can discern, and they’ve been told that holiness is removed from those passions. This leads to apathy, joylessness, and depression.
- Some men find more peace and emotional stability in maintaining a state of disengaged anhedonia.
I’m not a medical doctor, but personally, I suspect some men suffering from a lifetime of depression have never developed the neural synapses needed to genuinely feel emotions and express their emotional state. It’s beyond just repressed anger, stinted hopes, poor socialization habits, or a chemical imbalance.
What does Christianity and church fellowship offer to these men?
Church-going Men are Susceptible to Depression
Studies have found that non-church-going women have a greater incidence of depression than their male counterparts, at a ratio of 1.6. However, this is the opposite among regular church-goers, in which men have a higher incidence of depression. In both populations, many indicators of depression are similar, but the actual rate of depression is not. That is, women talk about it more than men do, they report it more than men do, and are more likely to seek help than men are. Among non-church-goers, these indicators correspond with the respective rates of depression among men and women. But among the faithful, these indicators cannot be construed to mean that women have a greater incidence of depression than men do, but rather, it’s because men are reticent to talk about their emotions and less willing to seek professional help. As a result, church-going men are somehow less able to deal with depression than women are, and therefore suffer more from it. 
Mirola  investigated whether what people do and don’t do religiously might have both social supportive and coping implications for their mental health. He discovered that…
- Identifying one’s self as religious has no effect on depression for neither men nor women.
- Holding a position of authority in the church has no effect on depression for neither men nor women.
- Frequent church attendance ameliorates stress and depression in women, but not men!
- The use of prayer as coping mechanism significantly buffers the negative effects of chronic strains and depression in women, but not in men!
He concluded that women are more likely to benefit psychologically from greater religious involvement.
Mirola notes that it is quite possible that those who are depressed go to church more than those who don’t or turn to prayer when they are at their wits end and no other option is available.
Furthermore, Mirola found that there are three main summary forces embedded within religious institutions and in every day life that work in women’s favor.
- Women are more likely to be in and take advantage of supportive relationships made available through their religious activity.
- Women are more likely to define religious activity as an efficacious means to cope with stress and then use it for that purpose.
- Women get a sense of community, protection, and social security from attending church and being involved in religious activities, and this has a greater effect on women’s mental health compared to men.
“Frequent church attendance had a negative effect on depression for the full sample (b = -.334, p < .01). However, as hypothesized, this effect in the full sample is primarily due to existence of a negative effect of frequent church attendance on depression for women. No similar effect appears for men.” 
So in summary, going to church makes women less stressed and less depressed on the average, but the same is not true for men. This adds to the sizeable number of reasons why the typical church has many more women than men.
Depression among Religious Leaders
It gets worse. Clergy members are at far greater risk for depression than individuals in other occupations.  Studies conducted between 2005-2008 found that the rate of depression among men of the cloth ranged between 5.5 to 11.1%. 
“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 stressful experiences.” 
“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.” 
Case Study — A Depressed Pastor Rationalizes His Depression
Here’s an odd perspective from the author of Building Jerusalem that gives us one example of how the clergy deals with depression inappropriately or inadequately. In Depression slays the idol of productivity (2021-3-16), the author, Pastor Stephen Kneale, wrote,
“If we aren’t busy, we feel guilty. When we are busy, we feel virtuous. In many ways, my depression helps with that. […] …despite how I may view productivity as a mark of faithfulness, the truth is I can’t be that productive. I can do some things, but not as much as I can normally. I can get stuff done, but it takes me absolutely ages now. And I still feel guilty about it, but it doesn’t matter, because there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t make the slowness disappear and the workload increase. It exposes the idolatry of busyness and forces me to slay it.”
Yes! Let us be thankful for our depression!
Pastor Kneale seems to have it backwards! He observes that people feel virtuous when they’re busy, which I see as both an indicator of emotional health and being well adjusted within one’s occupation. But he has the idea that it’s somehow less holy of him as a pastor to feel virtuous about being busy! He is thankful to be depressed because it works against productivity, which he believes is an idol!
IMO, work is a blessing to be savored and enjoyed, especially when you’re working for the Lord. And based on my own experience with depression, it’s the result of repressed anger and frustration that continues on for months and years without any hope of a resolution.
Another pastor in Sydney Australia, Chris Cipollone, carries a similar attitude about his own depression.
“I am a pastor who lives with depression. And nowhere in scripture am I disqualified for it.”
“In living with personal frailty, I can leave room for healthy leadership frailty, because it is God’s strength that is greater.”
As we have read above, pastors face an increased risk of depression, but one’s own attitude about it can make a difference. IMHO, I’d say these guys are a bit too myopic about their own spiritual state and they need a sabbatical to give themselves some rest and a broader perspective. It concerns me to think that they might be extending these beliefs to the men under his care, and inadvertently teaching them to savor their repressed anger or whatever is contributing to their depression and to be thankful for the dull despondency.
The Church and Mental Health
I want to take a moment to comment on a tangent about how the church usually deals with mental health, as this directly relates to Christian men suffering from anhedonia, dejection, depression and general melancholy.
Christianity has within it a theology involving sin, guilt, suffering, and self-sacrifice, and it is not uncommon for sincere laypersons to be deeply confused over these issues, often without fully understanding exactly how they are affected by it or why. Even mature Christians can come to a place in their lives where they ask themselves basic questions like, “Why does God allow (this) suffering?”
In ages past, the church was largely responsible for shepherding those new to the faith and those going through difficult ordeals. In modern times, it is the field of psychology which addresses those problems within society that were once regularly dealt with by the clergy. Now, only one quarter of people who seek treatment for mental disorders go first to a member of the clergy.  This is higher than the percentage of people who go to either psychiatrists or general medical doctors, but lower than it has been in decades past.  As a result of advances in psychological treatments, and the receding activity of the church in shouldering responsibility for remediating psychological illnesses, the clergy is now less able and competent in dealing with depression and other forms of mental illnesses in it’s congregation, in spite of the availability of modern advances in knowledge about such issues.
In the busy day to day work of ministerial work, most clergymen will seldom wrestle with the Christian theology of suffering and how it relates to mental illness. However, it needs to be recognized that someone suffering from depression or another mental illness is suffering a spiritual crisis as well, particularly the first time the symptoms take hold.  This suffering should be properly recognized as a momentous time, perhaps once in a lifetime, when that person is most open to internalizing the gospel of Christ and receiving the heart-felt knowledge of salvation. Therefore, it is necessary for both clergymen and those suffering to recognize how depression and other mental illnesses might fit within Christian teaching on the effects of original sin, the presence of various sufferings and illnesses in our world, God’s unconditional love, redemption in this life, and how one may find healing for the mind, body, and soul. Clergymen need to find real, clinically tested, actionable strategies to help their parishioners come to peace with the problems and questions of the soul that are common or which providentially become eminent within their church or parish. Sufferers need to find and access the power of the gospel, the support of a Christian community, the love that is experienced within God’s presence, and the overriding hope that Christ can offer to them through Christ’s love. Men who are searching for healing should be guided towards an understanding of how their experience fits into and supports God’s purpose for his life. In most cases, men who have had hurtful experiences in the past and have found grace and healing are best suited for ministering to other men going through similar experiences. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7) So there is no need for clergymen to have all the answers, but they must face these mental conditions and the preeminent questions, offer actionable choices to those suffering, help them find mentors who can stand by them, and rest in God’s truth. The alternative is that the ignorance, uncertainty, and hesitation of church leaders and counselors will leave those suffering from various psychological conditions without a lifeline.
Of course, there’s always One lifeline. Mirola  found that prayer significantly helps women avoid stress and depression, but not men!
Average Score: 1
- Lloyd, C. E. M., Mengistu, B. S., Reid, G., “His Main Problem Was Not Being in a Relationship With God”: Perceptions of Depression, Help-Seeking, and Treatment in Evangelical Christianity”, Frontiers in Psychology, (19 April 2022). | DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.831534
- Mirola, W. A. (1999) “A Refuge for Some: Gender Differences in the Relationship between Religious Involvement and Depression,” Sociology of Religion, 60(4), 419–437. | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/3712024
- Wang, P. S., Berglund, P. A., Kessler, R. C., “Patterns and correlates of contacting clergy for mental disorders in the United States“, Health services research, 38(2), 647–673 (2003). | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6773.00138
- Proeschold-Bell, R. J., Miles, A., Toth, M., Adams, C., Smith, B. W., Toole, D., “Using Effort-Reward Imbalance Theory to Understand High Rates of Depression and Anxiety Among Clergy,” The Journal of Primary Prevention 34, 439–453 (2013). | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10935-013-0321-4
- Duke Today: Clergy More Likely to Suffer from Depression, Anxiety (2013-8-27)
- New Life Christian Fellowship: The Causes of Depression (2015-9-15)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Developing Attitudes That Help You Cope (2015-11-5)
- The Good Book: Here’s What it’s Like Being a Church Leader and Depressed (2018-5-1)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Millennials Losing Hope (2020-4-17)
- Σ Frame (Scott): How to detect the possibility of suicide in someone close to you (2021-2-6)
- Σ Frame (Jack): The Link between Zinc, Male Health, and Depression (2022-4-29)