Depression, Stress & Discouragement in Youth Work


It’s been some emotional roller-coaster this whole youth ministry thing. I’ve been in both the deep end, and the shallow kiddy-pool of my heart-spine.

I’ve struggled with mild discouragement, bouts of depression, and prolonged stress at different stages of my career so far. It can sometimes be very difficult to distinguish whats actually affecting me, what set of emotions are in play, and how they need to be dealt with (i.e. pain killers, peace n’ quiet, counseling, a holiday, a good knock to the head, a grin-n-bear it week etc.)

In Doug Fields book Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry he dedicates a whole chapter to dealing with discouragement. On p.47, Steve Geralli gives a helpful reminder in a little aside box saying,

“Be aware that depression can mask itself as discouragement. Some signs of depression include irritability, sadness, exhaustion, low self-image, destructive self-criticism, shame, guilt, and loss of pleasure and fulfillment. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms for more than a couple of months, consult a professional therapist.”

Steve’s comments are really useful. Depression can easily be mistaken for discouragement, and sometimes vice versa too. In fact in my last year of my previous job I was diagnosed me with stress, but until I saw my GP I was treating it as simply discouragement – these things can easily get muddled together.

So just some preliminary thoughts:

– Don’t be surprised by depression, discouragement, or stress. Youth Ministry is about 80% less about fun n’ games than we thought it was!

– Don’t worry at other people’s surprise. Youth Ministry is 100% less about fun n’ games than they think it is!

– Keep a positive check on your ministry / life / spirituality balance.

– Don’t be afraid to talk to a GP for clarity’s sake. Especially when experiencing things like fatigue, lack of motivation/enthusiasm, difficult sleep patterns, sudden weight loss/gain, increased irritability etc.

– Try to keep in context the cross we carry, the sacrificial life of a minister, and what it means to share Christ’s sufferings.

– Memorize some fighter verses.

– Read daft books & watch daft films (harry potter & the simpsons have gotten me through a lot).

– Take your holidays. Spend fun time planning them (book early).

– Take your days off & sometimes take them away from your work areas/towns/city/planet.

– Laugh for no reason.

– Wake up at 1am just to go and buy cake from the supermarket.

– Keep letters that have encouraged you in a journal. Delete the stupid emails.

– Don’t be afraid to call some emails and conversations you’ve had stupid.

– Make to do lists an hour before you sleep. Include conversations you need to have, emails you’ve got to send, people you need to beat up (kidding). Just get it outa your head!

– Tidy a room or two. Wash some dishes. Take a shower.



Depression, Stress & Discouragement in Youth Work

5 replies
  1. Ryan Rudolph
    Ryan Rudolph says:

    Dude, just what I needed – thanks a lot.

    Some very difficult times I’m having. Doug Fields is like my manuel – but I find I can’t implement all the things I want too, because the powers that be say no. They say slow and stead wins the race… but sometimes you just want a bulldozer so you can start it all over again. haha.
    Anyways, thanks for the encouragement.

    • timgough
      timgough says:

      Thanks matie. I’m really encouraged to know you we’re helped by this. Doug can be brilliant and I’ve really appreciated his books. Not perfect – but really Godly and generally really helpful. I totally understand wanting to bulldoze through – I’m exactly the same. It’s gotten me into a pickle on a few occasions now!
      Blessings on you bro.

  2. dimitri snowden
    dimitri snowden says:

    good words of encouragement. i’d also add that its important to remember that the nature of your mission is PEOPLE and people are the most subject beings. this means that each has a perception based on their position as an observer in that given moment in time.

    often times, we become depressed, irritated sad, etc b/c we feel we are not having the impact we think we should have on a situation of people/person however, we must get passed this quickly and let go of our expectation to “fix” or “impact” things they way we think.

    do your best, give it all you got and then surrender – period.

    • timgough
      timgough says:

      Thanks for this matie. Really helpful addition! Personal expectations can be the killer. Not helped by the fact that youth ministers also have the expectations of youth, parents, pastors, elders, teachers, janitors etc. jockeying for position too! Really helpful to be reminded of the golden rule to do our best and surrender. Great stuff – thanks.

  3. bethbutcher
    bethbutcher says:

    Thanks for your post. Can I add one? I think it is really important to know what God wants and what everyone else wants. If you manage to do that and have confidence in that, you’ll find that other areas of your life fit into place. I know ministry is hard work but God calls us to other things as well. I’ve had to learn that the hard way and I want to encourage you that God never gives you more than you can handle, or leaves you to handle it on your own. Pray that 2012 is a better year for you!


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