Sunday morning after church service, Deacon Johnson was on his way out and getting ready to watch the Washington Redskins football game. He bumped into Miss Watson and warmly asked her, “How are you feeling this fine Sunday morning?” Miss Watson had recently suffered terrible losses, because she unexpectedly lost her job and her mother died two weeks ago. Miss Watson forced a half-smile, lifted her shoulders back, and responded “I’m too blessed to be stressed!” Although Deacon Johnson nodded in approval, he did not fully believe Miss Watson’s response. Overhearing this conversation transformed my professional career.
“I’m too blessed to be stressed.”
“I’m too blessed to be stressed” is repeated by people of faith like a badge of honor. The reality is that we are all stressed. We work long hours, battle traffic, and try hard to find that special soul mate. We raise children, care for aging parents, and worry how to pay our bills on time. If stressful situations continue, a person is at a higher risk of suffering from major depression. In fact, major depression is now the no. 1 cause of disability in the world.
As an African American, Christian, psychiatrist on faculty at Columbia University Medical Center, I know that churches are often the first place people go when struggling emotionally. Studies show that more people first seek help from a pastor during an emotional crisis than any other health professional. Pastors provide counseling and can make referrals to mental health specialists. Unfortunately, stigma and the fear of mental illness causes people in the church to suffer in silence instead of seeking treatment. Distrust of mental health professionals is especially strong in communities of color, as African Americans and Latinos have the lowest rates of depression treatment in the United States.
Imagine that we could create church environments where people felt safe to acknowledge their struggles with stress, depression, or substance use – instead of insisting that we are “too blessed to be stressed” – we could encourage people to seek care when it is needed.