Depression, anxiety, and the church: A pastor’s wife tells her story of hope

November 15, 2018

Since the garden, our world has been thoroughly and profoundly broken from the introduction of sin. This brokenness affects every part of our lives, from who we are, how we act, how we work, and how we relate to one another, to natural disasters and physical illness. As evangelicals, we are quick to see this universal bodily brokenness in cancer and heart disease, but when we approach mental illness, often our first response is to assume a lack of faith or inward transformation of the gospel. Why is this? 

My family is no stranger to mental illness. Genetics have certainly played a huge role as three generations of my family, including myself, have been affected by depression and anxiety. Out of all of us affected, my mom's depression and anxiety has certainly been the most severe, particularly in the past few years. What has made this particularly hard is that she is a pastor's wife.

More than 18 percent of Americans struggle with depression and anxiety, but the stigma and shame still holds strong in the church and even stronger for those who hold roles in ministry.[1] I recently sent her a few questions in hopes her story will encourage you or someone you know walking a similar journey.

Tiffany Marshall: When did you first start struggling with depression and anxiety?

Leigh Ann Marshall: I have struggled with diagnosed clinical depression for almost 30 years. The first time I sought professional help was in the early 1990s.

TM: What have been some of the factors that have amplified your depression and anxiety in different seasons of your life?

LAM: I was sexually abused by an older teenage boy when I was a child. I suppressed the abuse until I was a young adult. I believe this was the root of my anxiety and depression. My depression was managed for many years on low dose depression medications under the supervision of doctors. Over the past few years, there was an accumulation of factors that caused my anxiety and depression to resurface more severe than ever. We moved twice to two different states in a period of 13 months. My husband’s pastoral job changed twice in that period of time. In addition to that, I began to lose a large business that I had built from the ground up for over 19 years thinking it would be part of our retirement plan. I also went through a very severe physical illness during that 13-month period of time. 

TM: How was this most recent season of depression and anxiety unique? What brought it about?

LAM: In November 2014, I spent 19 days in an ICU for sepsis, a very severe illness that more times than not, causes one to lose their life. Almost every major system in my body was shutting down due to an infection from a minor surgery for kidney stones. I ended up being on a ventilator for eight of the 19 days. Rehabilitation, including learning to walk again, took several months.

Just as I was getting physically stronger, my husband was called to another church, and we moved once again. My business began to decline even more rapidly as I was not able to work to keep things moving in a positive direction. I started to feel like a failure and was not sure how to handle the rapid decline of something I had put blood, sweat, and tears into for 19 years. I also felt like a failure as a pastor’s wife. I have always known the importance of being a helpmate for my husband, but it was all I could do to get to church, and then once I was there, I found it very difficult to engage with people. 

Very soon, I began to slide into a deep depression that ultimately led to my decision in early 2017 that it would be better for everyone if I simply took my life. By God’s grace, I was in counseling and revealed this plan to my counselor. Thankfully my husband took this seriously and checked me into a facility for a week to get the help I needed. It was while I was in this facility that I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The doctor informed me an illness as severe as my sepsis, coupled with a lengthy stay in ICU, could produce PTSD. I slowly began recovering as my doctor discovered my medications were out of balance and found the right medications for me.

TM: What has helped you out of this most recent bout of serious depression?

LAM: As someone who has battled anxiety and depression for almost all of my adult life, anxiety and depression are things I will most likely always battle with at some level. The factors that contribute to my illness are several. There are chemical imbalances (physical), as well as emotional and spiritual factors. I know, therefore, that I must battle the struggle on several fronts.

As I have mentioned, getting my medications balanced and accurate was a big step in the right direction. I am grateful God directed my steps to get me to the doctor who is right for me. He does an amazing job of listening to me and keeping my medications where they need to be.

I also continue to see a Christian counselor. I believe this is important because over a lifetime of handling stress in an unhealthy way, he has helped me see other ways of dealing with difficult situations in a healthy way.

My family (especially my husband) have been supportive of me as I have walked through this. It is important for those you love to see clinical anxiety and depression as an illness. If I had any other chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart disease, people would understand it has to be treated. In the same way, people must understand mental illness is a very real disease. My family has supported me in that way.

I would certainly not want to leave out the spiritual aspect of this battle. Satan wants to destroy us. He will use any and all tactics to see us taken down. This certainly includes the battle of the mind. It has been important for me to continue to press in to God and my walk with him. I have Scripture and words to some of my favorite worship songs around my home. I see them everywhere I go. They remind me of where my real strength lies. When I am weak, I know God is shown to be strong.

TM: How did your role as a pastor's wife make this recent season harder? Why do you think that is?

LAM: When you are a pastor’s wife, you want to be strong around others. Expectations on pastors can be unrealistic. I was afraid if people in our church found out what I was really going through, they might think I was not a strong Christian or my faith was weak. We had not been at our current church long before the severe season of anxiety and depression set in. “What would others think if they knew their pastor’s wife was contemplating suicide?” I felt trapped with no place to turn for help.

TM: What can the church do to help church members affected by mental illness? (Personally or a loved one)

LAM: We must get past the stigma that somehow mental illness is a taboo subject. There are people sitting in our pews every week that are hurting and afraid to admit it or seek help. If we can bring mental illness into the light in our congregations, this will go a long way toward helping those who think they are the only ones or that other Christians will not understand.

We must educate our people. Our church has a strong partnership with a counseling ministry in our area. We lean on the professionals in this ministry to help educate our people on the real causes of mental illness as well as giving them help.

My husband recently preached a series of messages on discouragement and depression. With God’s leading, I shared my story on a Sunday morning as he completed the series. As hard as this was, it has opened healthy dialogue among our people. Many have reached out to me for help. They now know if the pastor’s wife can publicly share about her struggle, this is a safe place to go with their struggles.

We encouraged people to not ignore symptoms in the lives of those they love. They may just need someone who cares to reach out to them and keep gently nudging them until they get the help they need.

Because of the overwhelming response to my story, we are looking at ways to further educate our people and keep this conversation alive in our church. We want to be seen as a safe place that offers the real hope only found in Jesus Christ.


This has been such a hard season for my family, but we have also seen God’s grace so clearly. The Lord has used this to bring our family closer together, and it has made each one of us more thankful for the time we have together. We have a common faith in Christ that has helped us through this season, recognizing the broken, giving grace to each other when needed, and ultimately trusting in his sovereign and good purposes on the hard days. I know there are many other families out there that are walking through similar seasons without the hope of the gospel, and I pray the church rises up to meet them with good news in their moments of need.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255.


  1. ^ https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Leigh Ann Marshall

Leigh Ann Marshall is a mother of two adult young ladies and grandmother of one granddaughter. Leigh Ann lives in Lebanon, Tennessee. She is an accomplished business leader, having achieved the level of National Executive Director with a direct sales company. She is also the wife of Mark, who is the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24