The Tel Aviv study on “Burnout,” introduced in our last blog post, shows that there are grave physical ramifications to prolonged stress on the body. As Caregivers you and I are likely to be the first to realize extreme stress in a missionary’s life since we are on the front line of bringing care to international workers, or pastors.
How then do we handle this potential danger to the Christian worker?
Research prior to the Tel Aviv study on CHD (defined as: the buildup of plaque in the arteries that causes angina and heart attacks) showed that job burnout can lead to a range of other health problems, including . . .
In order for the Tel Aviv study to analyze whether staying too long in a “miserable” job could be connected to developing coronary heart disease (CHD) researchers tracked a population of 8,838 “apparently healthy” employed men and women for three-and-a-half years. Each participant was “measured for burnout levels” and examined for symptoms of heart disease. The study controlled for other risk factors such as sex, age, family history of heart disease, and smoking.
“During the follow-up period, 93 new cases of CHD were identified,” the report says. “Burnout was associated with a 40% increased risk … But the 20% of participants with the highest burnout scores had a 79% increased risk.”
“These results are valuable for preventive medicine,” Toker notes. “Health care providers who know that their patients are experiencing high levels of stress at work can monitor them closely for signs of coronary heart disease as well.”
For Missionary and Pastor Caregivers, however, monitoring is not an option. We either recognize this reality in our friend’s life on a visit to their “field” situation, or when they come to a place of care we provide. And usually it’s a confidential discussion that surfaces their ongoing lack of sleep; their anxiousness about life and their situation; their negative feelings about their job, etc.. (Not all of us are good seeing mild or serious depression in others, and they are often good at “masking” it.)
But, again, what to do with this information? Is this a situation where we counsel a job change? Is this a situation where we gain permission to talk with their supervisor or church Board about the gravity of their condition? Is this a situation where we take even more drastic action like initiating an immediate transfer from the field into a center of rest and psychological help, like Link Care or Alongside Ministries?
Probably the bottom line for Caregivers is that when someone surfaces a difficult and miserable job life, that revelation is pursued seriously in discussion by the Caregiver until the gravity of it is assessed and a plan of action to remedy it is discovered and agreed upon by the Christian worker. If that doesn’t happen, then the Caregiver needs to gain permission to take action in behalf of the worker.