It is widely cited that depression costs the U.S.A. economy $210 billion per year. That dollar amount represents the economic cost of treating the illness, physical side-effects, and lost productivity. But, the price of depression is so much more. In addition to the mental, physical, and economic consequences, depression also takes a toll on relationships, spirituality, career, and sometimes freedom. However, I have found in my own experience that inside the dark, stormy clouds of depression are proverbial silver linings.
Depression cost me my career. After I graduated seminary in 1994, my days of being on staff under a senior pastor were over. I became a senior pastor. Those days before I became clinically depressed were wonderful days watching God work. All the things that make up the office of the senior pastor – preaching, teaching, pastoral ministry, vision casting, worship, counseling, etc. – was rewarded by being a part in helping people to find their path toward healing and wholeness. Then my doldrums turned to clinical depression in the fall of my 38th year. Everything became a struggle. Sometimes the only energy I had was spent trying to stay alive.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, after eight years of being severely depressed without much relief and four hospitalizations in five years I was finished. I went from being the pastor to being in need of a pastor, from helping others to being desperately in need of help from others, from counseling others to being the counselee.
My experience is not unusual among those who have a mental illness. According to Mental Health America (MHA), “Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals.” According to a Harvard Business Review (December 11, 2015) article, 584,000 people will call in sick from or under produce at work daily because of depression. “Depression accounts for an estimated 200 million lost workdays each year at a cost to employers of $17 billion to $44 billion. (Monster.com, “Depression at Work”) According to the World Health Organization (WHO) major depressive disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S.A. I have a friend who was demoted twice because of his depressive episodes. He worked his way up to being a supervisor over 30 employees and three vital programs. But, after each hospital stay he lost more and more responsibility until toward the end he was hid from public view doing menial tasks. Eventually, he was fired for poor job performance. He and I are the face of the statistics above. For us it is more than a number on a computer program somewhere in the Bureau of Labor Statistics – it is real!
Men often find their identity in their work. That was true for me. I once told my wife I wanted my epitaph to simply say, “Pastor.” After leaving professional ministry I struggled with who I was and where I belonged. After much prayer I came to the conclusion that my real identity rested in Jesus Christ and who He thought I was. Now if someone asks me who I am, I tell them, “I am a person made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.” There I find my intrinsic value and worth.
God has also blessed me with many opportunities to help others. During hospital stays and at my twice-weekly depression group, I have and have had opportunities to help others by sharing my own story and using my counseling skills. A door of ministry is open for me to share the good news of Jesus with people who feel hopeless and ostracized from society. For over a year now I have been involved in trying to help a person overcome her substance abuse addiction. It has been rocky and filled with drama. A couple of weeks ago she consented to check herself into a long term treatment facility. I drove her there and stayed with her through the admitting process. Today, at this writing, she reported that she was where she was supposed to be. I am hopeful. Additionally, I get to spend more time with my children and soon coming grandchild and I fill the role of handyman from time to time. Life is good most days.