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Black Clergy and Mental Health: Who's Minding Our Minds?

Black clergy are the first responders to mental health and other social-psychological issues that appear in their respective congregations. Often, most Black clergy are overwhelmed and underprepared for the massive psychological situations to which they are expected to bring a sense of peace and resolution.

It is a phenomenon that has been present since slavery, and it has worn out many a Black pastor.

In her book, Depression in African American Clergy, Wynnetta Wimberley examines the crisis of mental wellness among Black pastors with much precision and offers a cogent path forward for clergy to understand the dynamics, not only for the mental health of their parishioners, but their own mental health, too.

Wimberly speaks to the ‘cultural sacramentalization’ of the Black preacher, "which sets clergy up for failure by fostering isolation, highly internalized and external expectations, and a loss of self-awareness."

To wit, when Black people feel stressed and depressed, they turn to their pastor first and, if said pastor has no structured format for dealing with his or her own personal anxiety brought on by exposure to racial antagonism, both parties suffer.

This is important, because many men and women of the cloth - black or otherwise - are reporting feelings of depression and burnout and with great alacrity.

In a Canadian study, entitled “Clergy Well-Being: Seeking Wholeness with Integrity”,

  • 70 percent moderately or strongly disagreed with the statement, “I feel fulfilled in ministry.”

  • 67 percent agreed to strongly agreed with the statement, “I sometimes project my job frustration on the family.”

  • 62 percent agreed to strongly agreed with the statement, “Sometimes my outward appearance seems happy and content while inside I am emotionally distressed.”

  • 75 percent agreed to strongly agreed with the statement, “I am afraid to let my parishioners know how I really feel.”

  • 80 percent agreed to strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel guilty if people see me taking time off during the week.”

I imagine these feelings are not unlike any American-based pastor, much less any African American one.

The truth is Black clergy face extraordinarily difficult circumstances for ministering to a disproportionately impacted community. Some polls conducted strictly among pastors in the Black sector reveal a startling rate of depression and suicide ideation. Black clergy treat in perpetuity the aftereffects of racism, inequity and White supremacy in the form of mental anxiety, depression and dysfunctional behaviors among its constituency. It is like a faucet that just will not shut off and it hasn't for a very long time.

Wimberly opines: "...there is a trans-generational transmission of depression stemming from the cultural trauma of America’s transatlantic slave trade industry."

In 2016, a study commissioned by Research Gate's Program for

Research on Black Americans (PRBA) examined several predictors - which included the frequency of race-based encounters - to exposure by Black clergy leadership to racial discrimination. It pointed to an ominous conclusion:

"Older church leaders and those who

reported experiencing more acts of discrimination tended

to report worse overall physical and mental health".

The longer we stay in the fight, the more detrimental for our physical and mental health.

The righteous are crying out! (Psalm 34:17)

Inevitably, the question becomes, "Who's Minding Our Minds"?

Pastor W. Eric Croomes is a faith influencer and believers coach based in Phoenix, Arizona. Contact Pastor C. at:

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