Program for pastors designed to help them understand depression

By Andre A. Rodriguez  / ASHEVILLE – According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any given one-year period, 9.5 percent of the population, or about 18.8 million American adults, suffer from a depressive illness. These illnesses interfere with normal functioning and cause pain and suffering not only to those who have a disorder but also to those who care about them. Faith communities can be a primary resource for people who suffer from depression. That’s why the Pastoral Care Department of Mission Hospitals, Copestone Psychiatric Services and First Baptist Church is sponsoring a seminar on depression from 8:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church of Asheville, 5 Oak St. “Depression: A seminar for faith community leaders and other caregivers” is not for the general public, said Dr. Gerald Travis, a local psychiatrist who will offer the physician’s perspective on depression, but he encourages people dealing with a depressive illness to contact their clergy member and encourage them to attend the seminar.

While there are a variety of treatments available for depression, the spiritual component of treatment sometimes gets overlooked, Travis said. “The capacity that our brain has for healing, we don’t really now how to quantify that or tap into that, but I think that faith plays a significant role with that,” he said. It’s important for members of the clergy to be able to identify symptoms of depression and to know where to refer people for help, said the Rev. Mary Caldwell, a Mission Hospitals chaplain who will be offering a pastoral response during the seminar.

A study done by the National Institute of Mental Health showed that in rural North Carolina, people suffering from serious mental illness were just as likely to seek help from a clergy member as a mental health professional. “It’s so important for the pastor to understand that depression is an illness, and when somebody has an illness you go to the doctor,” Caldwell said. “If somebody in the middle of a worship service had a heart attack we wouldn’t just stand around and pray and get our Bibles out, we would call 911.