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Almost one in three clergy admit to having suffered from depression, new Glyndŵr University research reveals

23 September 2010

A new Glyndŵr University study into the health and wellbeing of clergy revealed that almost one in three admitted to suffering from depression at some point in their career.

Dr Douglas Turton, Honorary Visiting Fellow at the university’s School of Psychology, consulted 1,278 Anglican clergy to discover their feelings on the stresses and strains of the job – after himself retiring from a career as a priest through ill health.

More than 30% said they had suffered from depression since becoming a priest or vicar, with 43% admitting to working too hard.

The study also revealed 47% of those surveyed describing their personal experience before the age of 18 as ‘anxious’ rather than comfortable and relaxed.

The findings are revealed in Dr Turton’s new book, Clergy burnout and Emotional Exhaustion, which has been launched at St Deiniol’s Library, Hawarden, home of Glyndŵr University’s Joint Centre for Cultural and Theological Studies.

“For an occupation that’s viewed from the outside world as laid back and peaceful, where you take everything in your stride, the findings are hugely surprising,” said Dr Turton, who cites long working hours and the blending of social and work life as potential causes of the strains on clergy.

“11% of the clergy who I surveyed didn’t take a day off, which is quite high,” he added.

“Clergy spent most of their working hours on their own and this is one of the biggest stresses which they face. Most people can mentally break off from their employment when they’re not in work but because of the nature of their calling, clergy don’t have this luxury.”

Clergy were questioned about all areas of their work as part of the research, including their experience of caring, working, their own childhood and their expectations of bishops and archdeacons within the church hierarchy.

Their views on how well they felt they were performing each of their roles – from preacher, team leader and theologian to counsellor, administrator and trainer – were also surveyed.

Following a short career as a social worker, Dr Turton studied theology and then went on to spend more than 22 years working as an Anglican minister firstly in Canterbury Diocese then in the London area and finally in Kent, before retiring through ill health.
He said that while the results were surprising to an outsider, they had confirmed his own suspicions.
Douglas said: “It was when I was off sick myself and started talking to other retired clergy that my interest in completing the study began.

"The research highlights some important issues but it’s important not to forget that most of the time, 95% of clergy thoroughly enjoy their pastoral work.  They cope with the stressful side because of the high level of satisfaction they obtain in their pastoral activity.”

“Clergy burnout and Emotional Exhaustion: A Socio-Psychological Study of Job Stress and Job Satisfaction,” by Dr Douglas Turton is available from The Edwin Mellen Press.

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