Forty-five per cent of Australians suffer from a mental illness at some time in their lives. This figure applies just as equally to clergy as it does to anyone else. Although little research has been dedicated to clergy mental health, some of the available data shows that about 20 per cent of clergy acknowledge struggling with a mental illness. This is a big deal.
The whole Church needs to surround vulnerable clergy with love, compassion and kindness until they find their feet again. While it is encouraging to know that the Church is increasingly becoming better at identifying and addressing the shortfalls in how it supports clergy when they face mental health challenges, there is still a way to go.
We believe that we can do better.
There are lots of resources available for the general community and, particularly with this being mental health month, people are being encouraged to talk about the mental challenges they are facing or to reach out to those who are struggling.
Everyone needs to play their part in supporting clergy who are struggling with mental wellness.
The idea for our walk came when we were considering some way of raising awareness about clergy mental wellness to churchgoers, as well as to the wider community. With one of us based in Ipswich and the other at the Cathedral, a walk from one church to the other seemed a natural idea. When we realised that this route is almost exactly 42.1 km – the official marathon distance – the “Marathon Walk for Mental Wellness” was born.
We will be stopping at as many churches as we can en route for breaks, as well as to pray for all those suffering mental health challenges – particularly clergypersons. These pauses will also give community members the opportunity to join with us for part of the walk.
Neither of us are mental health experts, although experience and research have shown us that five commonly missed symptoms of mental illness include:
- constant fatigue
- physical pain (if your body is sick it can affect your mental health, and the converse is also true)
- perfectionism (some mental illnesses can distort perception of self and others, which can lead to unachievable standards being set)
- lack of emotion
- avoidance of people (often used initially as a coping strategy, but can be taken to extremes).
Having failed to recognise these symptoms in friends whose lives have been severely impacted, we knew that we had to do something to highlight it.
So from dawn to dusk on 28 October 2022, we will be undertaking the Marathon Walk for Mental Wellness (MW2). Please feel free to join us for part of the journey – everyone is very welcome.
You can also follow us on Facebook for event information, training updates and live videos on the day.
Through our marathon walk, we are also raising money to support clergy struggling with mental health challenges. A new Clergy Mental Health Support ANFIN account has been started for this purpose – donations are very welcome.
Tips for supporting the mental wellbeing of clergypersons:
- Be realistic about your expectations of clergy, who also need to balance other commitments, such as family, other parish centres, study or (if they are serving in an honorary role) other work.
- During particularly busy liturgical periods (such as Holy Week or Advent) or on busy days, be especially mindful of your clergyperson’s limits.
- Always support your clergyperson in their weekly day off, regular holidays, exercise routines and hobbies.
- Speak more openly about mental health in your parishes to help destigmatise the conversation.
- Be willing to share the load and be reliable when you put up your hand, encouraging others to do the same.
Editor’s note: If you are in need of support, including helpline assistance, please visit the Queensland Government website.