It saddens me to hear that people experiencing depression often face judgment or alienation from the people in their church. What could be the most loving and logical place to turn for help doesn’t feel that way for many depressed individuals. Instead, they think, or have already experienced, that sharing their struggles with their church family is risky. They are afraid and alone and don’t want to hear platitudes or feel more isolated after baring their souls to those they trust.
Personally, I don’t believe the negative responses are meant to further hurt the depressed person, but come from a lack of knowledge and our own insecurities. Because of this belief, I’m writing this blog to hopefully educate and empower both those suffering and those called to help.
Depression is common. Almost everyone faces depression at some point in their life, and some episodes are more serious or longer lasting than others. Most people in the church are capable of managing life’s common disappointments and support others going through those times quite well. When a member of the church has lost a job, is having relationship difficulties, is grieving a loss, or has been diagnosed with a serious illness we pray, we make a schedule for meal delivery, we send cards and flowers, and we offer to help around their home. We manage to be very caring and go out of our way to ease their pain. But when the sorrow turns into depression that doesn’t go away in an “appropriate” amount of time, or when the reason for the ongoing sadness and despair is not clear, both the helper and hurt tend to shut down. The depressed person quits sharing and those that know about the depression quit helping.
To the person experiencing depression:
God has put people in your life that care about you and what you are going through. You may not be able to see it through the cloud of gloom but they are there. God has promised He will never leave you and He has also promised that where two or three are gathered in His name He is there. So ask Him to show you the people He has put in your life to help you through this. Trust Him and try to trust others that are there to help. Keep reaching out until you find the help you need.
To those that want to help:
Be patient. The person may not be able to tell you why they are depressed- they honestly may not know. That’s okay. And it doesn’t mean the depression isn’t real just because it can’t be explained or you can’t see the cause for the effect. You don’t need to help them figure it out. Keep inviting them to church, Bible studies, out for coffee or lunch, and community events even if they’ve said no several times. The time you don’t ask might be the time they find the strength and courage to say yes.
Be sensitive. Pray for wisdom before you speak or meet with them. It may be that you will help by addressing the sadness or letting them cry on your shoulder. Or perhaps this time you should set that aside and try to get out of the house and do something enjoyable with them. Try to involve them in activities that help them to give to others instead of always being the one served. Their depression may improve as they find value and worth and purpose in life- and you may open a door to a ministry they never considered possible.
Don’t judge. I try to keep things positive, but I think this is best said in the negative. Don’t question their faith, encourage it. Don’t criticize or point out shortcomings but praise them for what they’ve done right. Don’t give up! It can be tiring helping a depressed person (and they often feel guilty about being a burden to others). Be a positive example by setting healthy boundaries, living by your priorities, and feeding, exercising and resting both body and spirit.
Be honest. Even though the person experiencing depression is hurting they are still better served by a loving, honest answer to their question or request than a lie or omission to “protect” them. Notice that this is in response to their request… there is no need to volunteer information they haven’t asked for- especially if it is negative. Try to keep things positive, but not at the expense of being truthful.
If you are overwhelmed, either as the person with depression or the person loving and helping a depressed person, seek professional assistance. And always remember that if you, or the person you care about, are a danger to self or others, call 9-1-1, a crisis line, or go to the nearest hospital for immediate help.
Blessings to you!