Duke University researchers say their findings suggest the caregiving process may slow pastors to seek care because they typically default to caring for others first. Because of these findings, researchers have been trying to design health programs that will be more effective for clergy.
“Clergy recognize the importance of caring for themselves, but doing so takes a back seat to fulfilling their vocational responsibilities, which are tantamount to caring for an entire community,” said researcher Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, Ph.D.
“Many pastors equate self-care with selfishness,” Proeschold-Bell said. “They feel they need permission to take the time to attend to their health. A health intervention aimed at clergy must address this tendency head-on.”
In the current study, published in the Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, researchers say the findings demonstrate the need to place preventive care programs for clergy in the context of their beliefs, congregational expectations and church polity.
Investigators base their suggestions on in-depth focus group data from 88 United Methodist clergy in North Carolina.
Experts say that health intervention programs must overcome a variety of potential barriers named by clergy: cost, distance, pastors’ unpredictable work schedules and fear that mental health issues will be discovered and stigmatized by congregants and supervisors.
The focus group clergy also emphasized that any health intervention must demonstrate the connection between physical, mental and spiritual health.
Duke researchers have determined that compared to other North Carolinians, United Methodist clergy have higher-than-average rates of obesity (40 percent versus 29 percent), as well as higher rates of diabetes, asthma, arthritis and hypertension.
They also exhibit symptoms of depression at nearly double the national average: 10.5 percent vs. 5.5 percent.
Yet, despite reporting higher rates of chronic disease, these clergy were more likely to say their health did not affect their ability to do their work.
“Clergy perceive themselves to be much healthier than they actually are,” said Proeschold-Bell. “They don’t always recognize that they need help. That makes it all the more important that we design health interventions that pastors are likely to accept.”
Source: Duke University