Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders One Pastor’s Story of Leading Student Ministry While Depressed

One Pastor’s Story of Leading Student Ministry While Depressed

Four years ago, I finally told my wife that I thought I had depression.

She agreed with me.

Shortly afterward, I told the same thing to my doctor.

He agreed with me, too.

The whole time, keeping a thriving youth ministry going was getting harder and harder.

I didn’t want to, but I had to admit that I had a problem.

Forty-five percent of youth workers will fight depression at some point, and I was one of them.

My diagnosis was seasonal affective disorder. Yours might be different.

By January and February, winter started to take its toll on me. I slept and napped whenever I could, even if I wasn’t tired.

Even if I was at work.

When my wife asked me if I was happy, I told her that I couldn’t remember the last time that I was.

Another winter could have ended my youth ministry career. Maybe forever.

My doctor recommended a therapy lamp that simulates the sun’s rays. All winter, I spend 30 minutes a day reading near my happy light.

Here’s what helped me:
Far and away the most common request I’ve received at Smarter Youth Ministry is from people who want to know specifically which type of therapy lamp I’ve used. Here’s the link.

I’m obviously not a doctor, and you should talk to yours.

But I can tell you that after battling seasonal depression for the first 27 years of my life, the therapy lamp made a significant difference.

If you or someone you know struggles with depression, especially during the winter months, I’d check it out. Here’s that link one more time.

After using the therapy light for about a week, I started to feel “better.”

I was a better husband and more productive father.

My passion and energy for ministry returned.

Asking for help was the best thing.

There’s a temptation to pretend to be flawless. We refuse to acknowledge or discuss our own problems because we know the world has even bigger problems.

Maybe it seems admirable, but it certainly isn’t.

Ignoring your own problems is the easiest way to make sure you’re not available to help with anyone else’s.

Remember, your efficacy as a minister can only be as a big as the length of time you’re able to do ministry. If you burnout because of some unaddressed issue, your ministry will fall as well.

Getting yourself right might be the most important thing for everyone else.

Will you help?

If you have struggled with depression, I need you to leave a comment on this post and tell me about it.

Why?

Because there are dozens of youth workers reading this post right now who are afraid to admit that they might have depression.

They need to know that it’s OK and that they’re not alone.

Will you help me tell them that?  

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Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes at Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations—things like leading volunteers, managing money, and communicating effectively. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.