By Dena Dyer
Is your loved one or friend depressed? If you’re fairly certain they are, you are in the position to help. You’re also in the uncomfortable place of trying to help someone who may not be able to (or want to) help themselves.
I’m not a medical professional, and I’m not a counselor. But I am a layperson who has experienced both short-term and long-term depression, and I’ve been able (with God’s help) to live for several years now in a mostly-sustained place of good mental health. Life isn’t perfect, of course, and neither am I. Some days are better than others, and I’m not “cured,” but my life is so much better–and my faith is so much stronger–than it was just a few years ago.
Lately, I’ve been feeling that God is doing a new thing in my life and in my family, and I’m excited about what the future holds. It hasn’t always been that way.
One of the words I’m concentrating on this year is HOPE. I long for 2010 to be a year when I gave hope in tangible, practical, and inspiring ways. . . to many more people than ever before (if God wills, of course). He has been so good to me, and I want to share His grace and mercy as much as possible, in as many ways as He makes available.
So, to start the new year, here are a few do’s and don’ts from someone who has gone through the nightmare of depression and lived to tell about it:
Things to say to someone who is depressed:
- Listen without judgment. Despite what some Christians mistakenly believe, depression itself is not a sin. Many, many Bible characters and faithful Christians have suffered with depression. It’s a complex, often debilitating disease. . . and so many well-meaning believers (and even some successful Christian leaders) make depressed people feel as if it’s all spiritual and all their fault. PLEASE don’t make this mistake.
- Pray, pray, pray. Remember that prayer (and scripture) are our most powerful allies in the battle for mental health.
- Encourage your friend/loved one to get the right kind of help–whether it’s medical, emotional, spiritual and/or psychological assistance. Find a godly Christian counselor and physician who will work together, if that’s what healing takes. And be prepared to help with paperwork, transportation, and follow-up. Depressed people often feel “foggy” mentally, and may find it hard to keep track of their appointments.
- And keep after your friend/loved one until they do get some kind of relief. Remember, depression can lead to suicide.
- Provide rides, babysitting, housecleaning, cooking and/or groceries–anything that will help lighten their load. But ask them what would help first (don’t assume)!
- Try to think about what they’re going through and put yourself in their shoes.
- Give them space to cry, read, pray, be alone, and sleep more if they need to. That being said, look for signs that their depression isn’t lifting, and be prepared to intervene, if necessary.
- Try to get them out of the house, but don’t be offended if you can’t persuade them to go.
What NOT to say to a depressed friend:
- Say “just snap out of it”, “why don’t you try —” or “I was depressed once and — worked for me” or similar things. Of course, give an answer if they ask for your opinion or advice. Just try to be careful with prescriptions and pronouncements.
- Try to cheer them up. Instead, ask them what they need, and be prepared to follow through.
- Don’t say “let me know what I can do to help” and leave it at that. Give them specific ideas and questions to answer.
- Avoid them, if at all possible. They might not be great company, but they need your presence, even if they can’t articulate it.
- Pressure them to get better too quickly. Coming back from depression can be a painstakingly slow process, with many ups and downs. If they’re making progress, try to be content. Know that they’re doing the hardest work they’ve ever done.
- Give up hope. Depression is a disease, but there are treatment options–and many, many people who have suffered from it have gone on to lead wonderful, fulfilling lives.
That’s it for now. Do you have do’s and don’ts to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
Dena Dyer is a mom and wife who lives with her two boys (three, if you count her husband!) in the beautiful Texas hill country. Her passions are my loving, laughing, and encouraging others–whether that’s through writing, speaking, or singing. She is a Christian author and speaker and if you’d like to receive a handout she gives when she speaks on depression, which includes Bible verses, books, and other helpful resources, send her an email at email@example.com and she’ll send you one. Visit her web site here.