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Presbyterian minister Peter Lyle opens up on battle with depression and how adoption of two little girls has turned life around

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Rev Peter Lyle with his wife Heather and their adopted daughters Zoe and Kim

Rev Peter Lyle with his wife Heather and their adopted daughters Zoe and Kim

Rev Peter Lyle with his wife Heather and their adopted daughters Zoe and Kim

A Presbyterian minister has opened up about his struggle with depression, and told how his two adopted children later brought such joy to his life.

Reverend Peter Lyle had to take a year off as minister of Ballyholme Presbyterian Church to deal with his mental health.

He believes there is still a stigma around mental illness, and urges anyone in that situation to seek professional help as soon as possible.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: "My depression was a health condition no different to breaking my arm, but if I had broken my arm people would have seen the bandage and sympathised with me.

"However, there is no bandage around depression, but some people find it hard to understand why the person with depression cannot seem to cope."

In a recent article for the Presbyterian Herald he outlined his awareness of the attitudes to mental health.

He wrote: "The fact that I have had second thoughts about writing this article is testament to the stigma that still exists around mental health issues. Those who will read this are my family, those who sit with me on Presbytery and committee meetings in Assembly building, or for whom I am their minister.

"That bothers me because for all the progress made, mental health issues are still perceived by many as personal weakness or an inability to cope with what's on your plate. This is all the more sobering as, for me, it all happened a decade ago and subsequently I have encouraged people to speak up about their struggles rather than to hide them away."

Peter Lyle (52) joined Ballyholme as their minister in 2002 and for the first seven years everything seemed normal. Then he visited Thailand with colleagues of the Presbyterian Overseas Board and came back with a very nasty infection.

"I felt absolutely shattered and after that things began to unravel. I was off for several months. Our doctor advised my wife Heather and me to take a holiday. We went to the north of England and I recall being in Manchester city centre. On the way out we were passing Manchester United's ground at Old Trafford and I asked Heather if she would like a tour of the place. To my surprise she agreed. I am actually a Chelsea fan, and that was the year when we were beaten in Moscow by Manchester United in the Champions League.

"I mentioned this to the tour guide and he gave me some light-hearted banter. Instead of seeing the joke, I began to think: 'I am supporting the wrong team, I should have supported Man United'. And I had this sinking feeling.

"I knew that these questions I was asking myself were silly but those kind of thoughts persisted.

"As we were driving in the beautiful hills outside Manchester, the scenery was wonderful but sadly my thoughts were dark.

"I could not stop thinking to myself: 'What is the point of anything? What is the point of my life?'. The darkness and the negativity were very powerful and these kind of thoughts kept recurring to me with increasing frequency.

"Back home after our holiday the same kind of thoughts persisted.

"I kept asking questions like: 'Does God really answer prayers?'. This was difficult for me because as a Christian and a minister I was preaching about hope, redemption and renewal.

"Of course there are great challenges in the life of a minister, dealing with bereavement and illness and other issues facing members of his congregation, but that kind of stress is probably no worse than that of other people who have stressful jobs."

Peter said his congregation were most helpful: "It was not their fault. They were fantastic and very understanding.

"However, I eventually reached a crunch point and it was clear that I could not continue."

A Presbyterian Church Commission took over the running of Ballyholme while Mr Lyle went on sick leave.

"My wife Heather was brilliant in every way and we talked and talked. Eventually I realised that I needed professional help and that was a breakthrough.

"Heather sourced HealthLink 360 in Edinburgh, which was used by the Presbyterian Overseas Board, and she and I went there for a one-day assessment of my condition.

"I thought: 'How has it come to this, that I am seeing psychiatrists, and taking these tablets?'. I said to myself: 'There is no way that they are going to sort this out in one session'. But I found that very quickly they were helping me to get to the heart of the matter.

"One of the issues which emerged was the fact that we were childless. So, after Edinburgh we went for infertility counselling, and this led to seeing a psychiatrist in Holywood. Later on we adopted two lovely Thai children at different times - Kim who is 16 and Zoe who is seven. They have brought so much light into our lives."

Peter also started cognitive therapy and later took a course in grief counselling.

"The Holywood psychiatrist was amazingly helpful and I learned so much from her at our regular sessions. Eventually things started to get better and I returned to my full-time ministry at Ballyholme."

He added: "In my first Sunday service when I was back I told the congregation: 'I feel like a new man! It seems almost as if the events of the previous year had not happened'."

Thus far there has been no reoccurrence of Peter's depression.

"I still have to keep an eye on myself and if I feel that I am entering a difficult period I take the measures to deal with that.

"Recently I availed of a one-year sabbatical from the Church and I travelled extensively in the Far East. My faith also helped me to get through the depression, though I am more aware of this in retrospect than I was at the time.

"I also believe that good can come out from such a dark struggle, and this certainly happened in our case.

"I am happy to talk and to write about my experience in the hope that I can help others who are in a similar situation.

"I know that there is a temptation for people to talk about their depression and their feelings with their family and close friends, but I would also urge them to seek professional help.

"That was a turning point for me. Some people tell me that I am showing courage in telling my story in public this way, but in my opinion the real courage comes in when people admit they have a problem and when they seek professional help.

"If they begin to see and feel that things are not right, that's when they should seek help."

  • If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact the Samaritans on 116 123, or Lifeline on 080 8808 8000.

Belfast Telegraph