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Pastor based in Dallas shares depression journey, urges others to seek help: ‘Don’t hesitate’

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Pastor based in Dallas shares depression journey, urges others to seek help: ‘Don’t hesitate’

Pastors and other clergy members often serve as pillars of support in times of crisis. Yet what happens when they’re the ones who need to be lifted up?

Mark Dance, a former pastor who lives in Dallas, knows firsthand that mental health struggles can impact those in church leadership.

During his three decades of leading various churches, Dance, now 59, experienced a three-year bout of clinical depression — and now, as a pastor advocate for GuideStone, he helps support other pastors who are struggling.

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He revealed the details of his story to Fox News Digital. 

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The ‘three-year fog’

Dance’s mental health challenge began about 15 years ago, when he was in his third pastoral position, he said. 

Mark Dance, pictured with his wife, Janet Dance, said he suffered through a three-year period of depression while serving as a pastor. (Dr. Mark Dance)

He and his wife, Janet Dance, were busy navigating life in ministry while raising teenagers — and they were also in the middle of a major move from one church campus to another.

“I noticed that I had become different,” he told Fox News Digital. “I was avoiding people, where I used to love being with people. And it became difficult to sleep, eat and make decisions.”

“I was working way too much, and using ‘the God card’ as an excuse.”

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Dance also noticed that he’d lost a significant amount of weight. It was a period that he now refers to as a “three-year fog.”

“I was working way too much, and using ‘the God card’ as an excuse,” he said. 

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“I was a ‘churchaholic’ who refused to receive the gift of a day off and did not honor the Sabbath. I was neglecting myself, and it just all caught up with me.”

Dance had been down before, he said, but usually he was able to shake it off within a week or two. “But this time, I was stuck for a long time,” he said.

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Dr. Mark Dance

Mark Dance is pictured with his family in 2002. He and his wife, Janet Dance, were busy navigating a life in the ministry while raising their teenagers when his depression journey began, he said. (Dr. Mark Dance)

Although it was “out of character” for him to ask for help, Dance reached out to his family physician — who diagnosed him with clinical depression, prescribed medication and told him to “throttle down.”

By slowing down and focusing on his own needs, Dance was eventually able to “get healthy again.” 

A few years later, he transitioned into a new role of helping other pastors overcome their own mental health struggles.

Those in church leadership are just as vulnerable to mental health struggles as the people they serve, Dance said.

“My clinical depression was equivalent to a common cold compared to some other types,” he told Fox News Digital. 

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“Depression is kind of like cancer in that regard — there are different levels. In my case, it was diagnosed early and was treatable.”

Learning to practice self-compassion

While it might seem that those in church leadership are perpetually strong, they are just as vulnerable to mental health struggles as the people they serve, Dance said.

“We deal with the same issues — health problems, marriage challenges, problems with kids or money,” he said. “But it is more difficult for us to ask for help because it’s counterintuitive for us as caregivers.”

Dr. Mark Dance

“My wife is my biggest fan and advocate,” Dance said. “Janet stepped up and became the leader of our home and our marriage for about three years, when I couldn’t lead anything.” (Dr. Mark Dance)

A pastor feels compelled to succeed both at work and at home, Dance noted — “because our spouse and kids are in our job description in the Bible.”

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That can lead to unrealistic expectations and added pressure, he said.

“About one out of four pastors will experience a mental health challenge,” he told Fox News Digital. “And I just happened to be one of those.”

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Dr. Norman Blumenthal, director of the Ohel Zachter Family National Trauma Center in New York, noted that members of the clergy are often “benevolent and idealistic individuals” who extend themselves to others, even at the expense of their own well-being

“It’s essential to remember that charity and care entail giving generously, but not excessively,” Blumenthal, who is not associated with GuideStone, told Fox News Digital. 

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“We can give a piece of ourselves, but not ourselves in entirety. When setting limits and triaging those we help, clergy often provide more effectively and abundantly than less.”

Dr. Mark Dance

While it might seem that those in church leadership are perpetually strong, they are just as vulnerable to mental health struggles as the people they serve, Dance pointed out. (Dr. Mark Dance)

While pastoring requires compassion for others, exercising self-compassion is just as important, according to Yale University’s Dr. Emma Seppälä, author of “Sovereign: Reclaim your Freedom, Energy and Power in a Time of Distraction, Uncertainty, and Chaos.”

“Often, people in service-oriented professions give a lot to others without taking into account that they need to give to themselves as well,” Connecticut-based Seppälä, who is also not associated with GuideStone, told Fox News Digital.  

“As I tell pastors, the only thing between you and help is your pride.”

“You can’t easily give from an empty cup. Self-compassion is the ability to treat oneself as one would treat a loved one — with kindness, consideration, respect and nurturing.”

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This might include the ability to set boundaries so that there is enough time in the day to get exercise or proper nutrition, Seppälä added.

“Ideally, pastors should include themselves in their ministry.”

Having the courage to ask for help

Clergy members who experience depression or other mental health conditions need just as much help as the general population, Dance said.

While counseling others dealing with depression, he often hears the common sentiment that depression “sneaks up on you.”

Dr. Mark Dance

Mark Dance (far right) is pictured in a recent photo with his wife, Janet Dance, and the couple’s children, Brad and Holly. (Dr. Mark Dance)

“It’s usually not a big freight train that runs you over,” he said. “It can start with lack of sleep, or a dramatically increased or decreased appetite. It can be very subtle.”

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Reaching out for help takes courage and humility, Dance pointed out.

“As I tell pastors, the only thing between you and help is your pride,” he said.

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In his role, Dance often tells preachers, “Don’t self-diagnose and don’t hesitate to ask for help.”

“God has not called us to be competent in everybody else’s profession — if you’re a pastor, it’s OK not to be a mental, physical or financial health professional. Just be a pastor and let other people help you.”

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Dr. Mark Dance

Dance’s wife, Janet, encouraged him to seek help during his struggles. Clergy members who experience depression or other mental health conditions need just as much help as the general population, Dance said. (Dr. Mark Dance)

At GuideStone, Dance said, the focus is on helping pastors and ministers to “stay well and finish well.” 

“I help people think about what a strong finish would look like at the end of their ministry, and it’s very fulfilling.”

Supported by faith

During Dance’s depression journey, he relied on his church and his faith to get him through.

“Church is a place where you can grow in all areas — not just one,” he said. “For me, church became a place where I could receive help from my own members.”

“And that’s the experience I’ve had for the last 36 years of industry — if the pastors ask for help, the church members will reciprocate.”

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“I learned to become more physically, mentally and spiritually healthy, through the process of my mind being renewed by the Lord and His people.”

The pastor also drew strength from the Bible — particularly his favorite verse, below.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

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Listening to God is an important part of self-care, according to Dance.

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“He’s the one who designed us — He knows how to help us stay well,” he said. “I learned to become more physically, mentally and spiritually healthy, through the process of my mind being renewed by the Lord and His people.”

Dr. Mark Dance split

Pastors and others can visit www.GuideStone.org/mentalhealth to see Dance’s video testimony and to get support from a pastoral counselor, Dance told Fox News Digital.  (Dr. Mark Dance)

Dance also draws support from his wife of 36 years and their two children.

“My wife is my biggest fan and advocate,” he said. “Janet stepped up and became the leader of our home and our marriage for about three years, when I couldn’t lead anything.”

“She’s a big part of how I got healthy and how I’m staying healthy.”

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Pastors and others can visit www.GuideStone.org/mentalhealth to see Dance’s video testimony and to get support from a pastoral counselor.

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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Disrupted sleep, plus nightmares could be linked to autoimmune diseases, experts say

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Disrupted sleep, plus nightmares could be linked to autoimmune diseases, experts say

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Those who experience vivid nightmares and odd hallucinations might have an underlying autoimmune disease, a new study suggests.

An international research team led by scientists at the University of Cambridge and King’s College London explored the potential link between nightmares and hallucinations and systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases. 

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The study, published in March in the journal eClinicalMedicine, included 676 people with lupus and 400 people from the medical field, as well as interviews with 69 people living with systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases, SWNS reported. 

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Those with autoimmune diseases were asked about the timing of their neurological and mental health symptoms, such as disrupted sleep, hallucinations, depression and loss of balance. 

Of the 29 symptoms listed, the participants were asked to rank such symptoms in the order in which they occurred relative to their disease flare-ups.

The study looked at not only the issues surrounding sleep, but also when the issues for participants began. (iStock)

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The study found that three in five people experienced “vivid” and “distressing” nightmares that involved being trapped, attacked or falling — resulting in disrupted sleep.

One-third of those immune-compromised participants said they noticed the trend over a year before their lupus onset. 

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Lupus is defined as “a disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs,” according to the Mayo Clinic. 

One in four participants stated that they noticed hallucinations — although 85% said they didn’t experience the symptoms until the disease onset or later. 

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Stuggling to sleep

The study linked patients with an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, to disrupted sleep — including nightmares.  (iStock)

Three in five people with lupus and one in three with other rheumatology-related conditions said they noticed an uptick in sleep disruptions just before their hallucinations would begin, according to SWNS. 

The lead author of the study, Dr. Melanie Sloan of the University of Cambridge, noted in the study that in many cases, patients and doctors will not discuss mental health or neurological symptoms in relation to these diseases.

Three in five people with lupus noticed an uptick in sleep disruptions just before their hallucinations began.

“It’s important that clinicians talk to their patients about these types of symptoms and spend time writing down each patient’s individual progression of symptoms,” she said. 

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Misdiagnosis was also mentioned in the study, as some participants said lupus and other autoimmune diseases were overlooked at first, SWNS reported. 

For example, a participant from Scotland was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder at age 18 before being diagnosed with lupus at 19.

Woman trying to sleep

The study found that three in five people experienced disrupted sleep with “vivid” and “distressing” nightmares that involved being trapped, attacked or falling.  (iStock)

“It was all very close together,” the participant said — noting that it was just a six-month period between “when my borderline personality disorder got under control and my lupus got under control,” SWNS said. 

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Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a California-based chief medical adviser for Sleepopolis, was not involved in the study but shared reaction to the findings with Fox News Digital. 

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Dasgupta, who is quadruple-board certified in pulmonary, sleep, internal and critical care medicine, said the study supports the perspective that a “high prevalence of neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as headaches, mood and fatigue” are commonly linked to patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). 

Dr. Raj Dasgupta profile

Dr. Raj Dasgupta said that sleep issues among patients with SLE need to be discussed in order for people to achieve a better quality of life.  (Sleepoplis)

SLE is a “chronic disease that can affect any organ, including the nervous system,” Dasgupta noted.

“This study also supports the fact that patients with SLE are subject to complications of its treatment, including steroid-related psychosis,” he added.

Misdiagnosis was also mentioned in the study. 

Sleep issues are common in people with SLE, said Dasgupta, with over half of patients experiencing restlessness, poor sleep quality and difficulty falling asleep. 

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“These issues can be caused by pain, medication effects and the disease’s impact on the brain,” he said. 

Fox News Digital reached out to the eClinicalMedicine journal for further information. 

Sleepoplis consists of a team of writers, product reviewers and sleep experts who provide reviews and sleep health content, per the company’s website. 

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5 myths about schizophrenia, according to a mental health expert: ‘Huge stigma’

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5 myths about schizophrenia, according to a mental health expert: ‘Huge stigma’

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About 1% of Americans, or nearly 3.5 million people, are affected by schizophrenia — yet the mental disorder remains highly stigmatized and misunderstood, experts say.

The reason, according to Brooke Kempf, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner based in Indiana, is a general lack of knowledge about schizophrenia.

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“People may see somebody hallucinating and think, ‘That is schizophrenia,’ when there’s so much more to the illness,” she told Fox News Digital in an interview. 

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“It’s important for people to recognize that schizophrenia is a diagnosed and treatable medical condition.”

For World Schizophrenia Day, Kempf shared some of the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding the disorder.

Approximately 1% of Americans, or nearly 3.5 million people, are affected by schizophrenia — yet the mental disorder remains highly stigmatized and misunderstood, experts say. (iStock)

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Here’s a look at five. 

Myth No. 1: People with schizophrenia are violent

One of the greatest and “most harmful” myths is the notion that people living with schizophrenia are “scary” or “violent,” Kempf said.

“There is a long history of conflating TV or movie characters who are behaving in odd, confusing or frightening ways with a diagnosis of schizophrenia,” she said. 

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“However, we have to remember that these are made-up, dramatized situations. A diagnosis of schizophrenia doesn’t have anything to do with what we see on the screen.”

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When patients with schizophrenia experience an acute episode — perhaps having delusions or hearing voices — they might behave differently than they typically would, sometimes seeming angry or violent.

“The person is likely experiencing something within themselves that they might be arguing about or responding to, but they aren’t targeting anything toward another person,” Kempf said.

schizophrenia split

When a patient with schizophrenia is experiencing an acute episode — perhaps having delusions or hearing voices — they might behave differently than they typically would, sometimes seeming angry or violent. (iStock)

When symptoms are managed with medication, “you would probably have no idea of their diagnosis,” she noted.

“Through my long history of working in community mental health and hearing their stories, I know that people living with schizophrenia are good, caring, loving people,” Kempf said. 

“They are more likely,” she added, “to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator of one.”

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Myth No. 2: People with schizophrenia have multiple personalities

There is a misconception that people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities, which could be because the Greek word “schizophrenia” means “split mind,” Kempf noted.

“However, people with schizophrenia do not have split personalities,” she said. 

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“They might have different behavioral characteristics when they’re ill and experiencing an episode, but it’s not because they have a split personality.”

Myth No. 3: People with schizophrenia are not intelligent

This assumption is completely false, according to Kempf.

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“If the illness isn’t well managed and continues to progress, or they have repeated relapses, patients will lose gray matter in their brains, and their cognitive function may decline,” she told Fox News Digital.

“But that does not mean they’re not intelligent.”

Man talking to a doctor

One expert said she’s worked with a multitude of “very successful individuals who also happen to live with schizophrenia.” (iStock)

Some patients may experience cognitive decline in the early stages of the disease — referred to as the “prodromal phase,” Kempf said — but early diagnosis and intervention can help prevent that.

Kempf said she has worked with a multitude of “very successful individuals who also happen to live with schizophrenia.”

“People with schizophrenia do not have split personalities.”

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In many cases, she noted, people can no longer see the “highly intelligent individual” behind the disease.

“As long as individuals with schizophrenia get the proper treatment — ideally with a long-acting injectable (LAI) medication — they can keep their symptoms controlled and function very well,” Kempf said. 

Myth No. 4: Symptoms of schizophrenia only involve hallucinations and delusions

Schizophrenia consists of what is clinically termed “positive” and “negative” symptoms, Kempf noted.

“Delusions and hallucinations, as well as changes in behavior and thoughts, are considered positive symptoms,” she said. 

schizophrenia symptoms

“Delusions and hallucinations, as well as changes in behavior and thoughts, are considered positive symptoms” of schizophrenia, the expert said.  (iStock)

Patients experiencing these symptoms may hear voices or have extra thoughts, delusions or fixed false beliefs, the expert explained. 

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“Hallucinations are not just hearing voices,” Kempf said. “They can occur in multiple ways based on our senses — seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things.”

Negative symptoms are when people lose interest in the world around them, withdraw or don’t take an interest in everyday social interactions, according to Kempf. 

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“Patients with schizophrenia may get labeled as ‘lazy,’ or they don’t seem as put together,” she said. “But it’s not about laziness. The person’s brain doesn’t connect these things as being important.”

People with schizophrenia may also experience what are referred to as “psychomotor” symptoms, Kempf said — they might seem abnormally slow, and their speech and thought processes can be somewhat delayed or disorganized.

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“Unfortunately, if these negative symptoms continue and there isn’t treatment, they can impact cognitive functioning.”

Myth No. 5: People with schizophrenia require long-term or lifelong hospitalization

Hospitalization for a person experiencing acute schizophrenia symptoms is usually very short, according to Kempf. 

“For someone having an episode of schizophrenia, the average length of stay may be about five days.”

“In an inpatient setting, for someone having an episode of schizophrenia, the average length of stay may be about five days,” she said.

“If a patient doesn’t respond to medication and can’t function safely on their own, they might have to go to a longer-term, higher-level setting.”

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Today, health care providers aim to give people with schizophrenia community-based services so that they’re able to function on their own, Kempf noted.

This might mean supporting them with employment services and housing opportunities to ensure that they have an affordable and safe place to live. 

“Some patients continue to live with their family members; some might live in a group home,” Kempf said.

“People living with this disease deserve to be treated like human beings and with the same care we would provide someone diagnosed with a physical illness.”

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From a medical perspective, schizophrenia has different levels of severity, the expert noted. 

“But, again, if managed well, with early intervention, an individual can remain high-functioning and live independently,” she said. 

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“Our goal is the least structured environment possible, enabling the person to live a normal life where they can work, grocery shop and drive on a day-to-day basis.” 

Ultimately, Kempf said, schizophrenia should be viewed as a disease, not a choice. 

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Female doctor with male patient

“While schizophrenia is a mental health diagnosis, it should be thought of no differently than a physical health diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease,” an expert said. (iStock)

“While schizophrenia is a mental health diagnosis, it should be thought of no differently than a physical health diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease,” she said.

“It just impacts a different organ: the brain.”

Other brain disorders, such as epilepsy, tend to be more accepted by society, she said — but there is still a “huge stigma” surrounding diseases like schizophrenia, “probably because of the fear of the unknown.”

“It is treatable, and both medication and support services are available,” she told Fox News Digital. 

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“We all have a role to play in helping to dispel myths, foster understanding and reduce stigma,” she continued. 

“People living with this disease deserve to be treated like human beings and with the same care we would provide someone diagnosed with a physical illness.”

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