This is I think one of the hardest decisions when you suffer from depression. There are lots of reasons you dont want to talk about it: You’re ashamed, think you’re weak, don’t want to let others in, don’t want to receive “the look,” and a thousand others.
I guess that for the pastor (and really for most people), there are two layers of this question. If you are simply taking medication and therapy, you can probably keep the circle of people “in-the-know” fairly small. I’ve known a number of pastors who never told anyone in the congregation through the entire process. The advantage to this is that your illness won’t have a potentially detrimental effect on receiving calls, etc. In the business world, pretty much everyone will tell you never let anyone know you’re taking anti-depressants. I find this truly a sad commentary on our culture. For a culture that talks so much about being inclusive and receptive of people with “differing abilities”, mental illness is the exception. I have found that this is often true in the church. I would never begrudge a pastor who chose not to speak with his congregation about a mental illness.
Disability, however, is a different matter. If you apply for disability, then it is really impossible not to speak with your congregation about the matter. Your circuit counselor, with your input, will have to find someone to fill in for you while you are on disability, and someone, maybe several someones, will need to come into your parish to give them a little catechesis on mental illness and depression.
This is hard. I admit it. It is admitting what will be viewed by many as a weakness or even as a failure. You’re depressed because you aren’t strong enough to make yourself better (tell that to someone with a heart condition). No one likes that level of self-disclosure, least of all super-pastors. It’s a lesson in humility that is a good one, but painful at the time.
Yet in this disclosure lies freedom. It frees you to recognize your own illness. You don’t have to hide and pretend and act and do a show for everyone. You can actually be sick. Recognizing your sickness is the first step to healing. Sharing your sickness allows others to bear your burden with you. I think that’s in the Bible somewhere. Look it up. It is through our weakensses and trials that Christ is at work, showing the world His own suffering for us.
For myself, telling my congregation has been the best thing for my ministry since I was ordained. I won’t say that it has been picture perfect, that everyone has embraced us, or any kind of fairy tale ending. It has taught me (and my family) to look to Christ for strength, and not to ourselves, or even finally to my parish. My parish has taken care of me with generosity beyond expectation, and despite the bumps along the road, it has been a blessing for all of us.
I know it does not always work out this way. I know of pastors who have been forced to resign, undergo enforced psychological evaluation by their district, or worse. It’s sad, but true. Having said that, being straightforward and honest is always the best thing to do. That doesn’t mean make your whole life and psyche an open book. It does mean, however, not pretending or acting as if nothing is wrong when there is.
Christ is merciful. He will take care of you. Be at peace and bask in the glow of our Lord’s incarnation for you.