If you have a friend or family member who you know is suffering from, or at least in whom you can recognise some of the symptoms of, depression, what can you do to support them?
As I have already stated, I have no professional expertise in this area and only personal experience to speak from. That said, the first thing to do may be to advise your friend to seek a professional counsellor or medical expert who will be best placed to suggest treatment or medication.
However, don’t simply do that and then walk away thinking that you’ve left them in capable hands and that there is nothing more you can offer.
What would you do if someone you knew was suffering from a physical injury or illness or disability? Perhaps you’d try to understand what was wrong or how it hurt or if there was anything they needed help with. Obviously you wouldn’t expect to be able to provide medical treatment, but there would still be plenty of ways you could offer help.
You can do the same for a person suffering from depression, even if you aren’t a mental health professional and know very little about it.
You can reassure them that what they have is an illness which is causing them to have a inaccurate view of reality. There is something wrong inside their head that can hopefully be treated or overcome.
You can show them that you love them, that you care about them, that they are wanted and valued. Obviously only do this if you actually do love and care about them. Don’t pretend. They are likely to pick up on that very quickly and it will only make them feel worse.
Don’t ignore them or assume that their depression will eventually just go away by itself like a headache or a cold. It’s possible that this could happen, but it’s far more likely to be overcome if they are offered help.
Think carefully before trying to offer “solutions” to make them feel better or fix their problems. One of the common symptoms of depression is a feeling that nothing will ever get better and that nothing which is attempted will ever work. A person who is suffering from depression may very quickly dismiss anything you suggest, saying that it won’t work because of this reason or that reason, or that they’ve tried something similar before and it failed.
Don’t try to use logic or reason to argue them out of this mindset. It’s unlikely to help. Don’t expect them to be able to see things that seem clear and obvious to you.
Encourage them to find something useful or helpful that they can do and praise them when they do something well. Try to build up their self-esteem, although obviously only do this if it’s appropriate. Don’t exaggerate or say things that are over the top or unrealistic.
Again, don’t try to use logic or reason to convince them that they shouldn’t be feeling depressed. Depression cannot be overcome by argument.
Don’t say things like “Would you just cheer up for once?” or “Would you get over yourself and stop moaning?” or “Can’t you just be happy?”. Would you tell a person with a broken leg to just try walking for once?
Don’t have a go at them and accuse them of always thinking negatively. Don’t say things like “Well, some people in this world are much worse off than you!”. They know that. Feeling so down when other people DO have harder lives makes the feeling of depression worse. They don’t need to have that reinforced.
Likewise, if your friend is a Christian, don’t start accusing them of being weak in faith because of their difficulties in overcoming this illness. Don’t say things like “Jesus went though worse than this and he wasn’t as negative as you”. They know that too.
You can pray for them. Again, however, don’t simply do that and then walk away thinking that’s all you can offer. God usually answers such prayers through the actions of those willing to care for others.
Be ready to listen. Allow your friend to express how they feel, even if what they are saying makes no sense. Don’t try to instantly correct anything that sounds ridiculous. Don’t try to tell them how you think they ought to feel. If you’ve never experienced depression then you simply won’t understand where they’re at. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you know what it’s like unless you have actually been there. You can encourage and gently try to lead your friend into a more positive way of thinking, but don’t expect them to think or feel the same way you do.
Encourage them to eat sensibly, to exercise when they can, and to maintain a good sleep pattern. Encourage them to read what I wrote in the last post about turning the downward spiral of stress-related lack of restful sleep into an upward spiral.
Are there any examples in the Bible of people suffering from depression? Possibly. It’s impossible to know for certain the psychological state of people who lived thousands of years ago in an entirely different culture, but I’ve identified two individuals from the Old Testament who MAY have exhibited some of the symptoms of depression.
Next time we’ll consider the first one: Elijah the prophet.