Bestselling author and singer Shelia Walsh says the church must wake up to the number of pastors struggling with mental illness.
In a recent interview with The Christian Post, Walsh shares how her own battle with depression that brought with it thoughts of suicide helped her to experience the power of Jesus Christ.
Walsh, 62, a former host of CBN's The 700 Club, told the CP that 26 years ago, she checked herself into a hospital. Doctors diagnosed her as suffering from clinical depression.
"At the time, I was serving as the co-host of The 700 Club show on The Christian Broadcasting Network," she said. "I knew how to put on a good face and isolate myself from people. I was surrounded by people, a ministry leader, but so desperately lonely and depressed. Up until that point, I'd based so much of God's love on me getting everything right. When you end up in a psych hospital, that platform has been pulled from beneath you."
"There was such a profound sense of, 'The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,'" she said. "So often, that's what depression feels like. You feel as if you've been crushed. But in those times, that's when you can experience the presence of the Lord. When things go wrong, we feel as if God has left us or doesn't hear us, but I am learning that even in the darkest places, God's timing is perfect and His presence is promised."
Walsh draws from her own experience with depression to write about eight practical steps to help women cope and keep moving forward in her new book It's Okay Not To Be Okay: Moving Forward One Day At A Time.
Walsh also told the CP that pastors and ministry leaders are prone to burnout depression, and mental illness. She says the Church needs to "wake up" and support those in leadership positions in the middle of what Walsh describes as an "epidemic."
"We have this skewed idea of what it means to represent Christ; we think we need to look like the Good News," she said. "We don't. Jesus is the Good News. We need to simply begin having this conversation, acknowledging that this is an issue. We need to be telling our pastors, 'Please don't be ashamed, please don't give up — help is available.'"
According to Walsh, the Church has made a great effort to understand the issue of mental health. She credits the ministry of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, whose 23-year-old son committed suicide several years ago.
"From their unspeakable grief, the Warrens have done so much good," she said. "Their son, Matthew, was a darling boy, but he suffered so deeply from depression. Rick and Kay have such a phenomenal ministry and are leading the way in helping other churches understand mental illness."
As CBN News reported in August, a California pastor committed suicide after suffering from depression and anxiety. He even spoke to his congregation about his struggle with his mental health just days before his death.
"Depression is real and pastors are not exempt or defective who experience it," Christ Church of Orlando Lead Pastor Paul Valo wrote on his Facebook page. "In this generation, pastors are expected to be business savvy, Instagram quotable preaching celebrities, fully accessible, deeply spiritual, not too young, not too old, and if a pastor doesn't quite measure up to someone's expectation at any given moment, they are given a two out of five star rating on Google. Wow! We have reduced the ministry to star ratings on Google! Let me recommend that you pray for your pastor and support your church faithfully! You'll probably never realize what they walk through privately."
Walsh told the CP one of her favorite quotes is from theologian Charles Spurgeon (1834 - 1892), who suffered from extreme clinical depression.
"Sometimes, his depression was so severe, he couldn't be on the pulpit for a whole month," she said. "Still, he said, 'I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the rock of ages.'"
"When you understand the life of the man who said that, it's much more profound to me," Walsh continued. "He learned to be grateful for the darkness that plagued him because it threw him to the arms of Christ."