I carry an inhaler everywhere, I take an antidepressant every morning. Big deal. . . says Justin Welby

The Church Times reports that at the mental health workshop at Lambeth Archbishop Welby recently said:

“I carry an inhaler everywhere, I take an antidepressant every morning. Big deal. . . They are two sides of the same coin.”

I like very much that Justin is modelling openness and showing that there is no shame in acknowledging depression and that help should be sought. I struggle with the analogy with an inhaler though. I too carry an inhaler everywhere, I have a respiratory disease that is only getting worse, and there are some forms of depression that are perhaps similar – caused by brain disease or injury or chemical problems. But most depression is caused by the environment we find ourselves in and the stuff we are carrying.

I worry that it is us Anglicans that have made Justin’s work so toxic that he has been overloaded with stress. If that is the case then the inhaler can stay but the antidepressants should be temporary as we amend our ways and repent of what we have done to our archbishop.

I am reading a book by Paul Swann called “Sustaining Leadership.” and he has a lovely analogy of the place of pain becoming a place of healing:

It’s as if we each carry a weighty rucksack that we fail to notice, because we have enough strength to carry it and enough busyness to be distracted from it. Then circumstances bring it to our attention and force us to begin to deal with what we have been carrying.

The circumstances may be physical or mental breakdown and suddenly we can’t carry on in the same way – we have to perhaps spend hours in therapy to unpack the rucksack and from that point on we have to take seriously the reality of self care.

Self care alone isn’t enough though. Paul Swann was broken by his strenous ministry. Peter Selby was Paul’s bishop at the time and writes:

Looking at my former ministry, I ask myself, in gladly appointing some of our strongest people to the hardest tasks, are we as aware as we need to be of the particular support and resourcing needs that such colleagues have? Or do we just hope that the talented and the committed will find their own way of avoiding burnout? That goes along with a more searching question: how well are we ourselves modelling self-care?

I think he is right – bishops do need to model self care. In addition, we as an institution need to review the environment we are putting our clergy in, from the archbishop to the brand new curate, to work out how we can better love one another as God loves us.

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