It’s February. Many people in this world are in the middle of long, sunless, gray winter weeks. For some, seasonal depression is felt in addition to depression they experience on a regular basis. For those who love those with depression, we can feel powerless to help at times. I know, as I have lived with it in my family.
Close to home
Not long ago, my wife, Cile, stood before our church and shared her story of dealing with depression as the “uninvited and unwelcome guest” in her life. She struggles with moderate depression. Most were surprised to hear about this. If you know her, you know her to be mostly happy and positive. That is true and I am wild about that playful, happy-go-lucky part of her. We have so much fun together. That doesn’t mean that depression doesn’t exist. It means that she has learned great coping skills. I’ve known Cile for 37 years and we’ve been married for 35 of those years. This is not something we share. Like most people, I feel sad or depressed at times, usually when dealing with a loss or a life struggle. Those times are always temporary. They never leave me feeling helpless, hopeless, or worthless. They never last for many days or keep me from living my life.
Ten things to do
Over the years with Cile and talking with many others as a pastor, I’ve learned some things about helping those with depression. If you are the one in a friendship or romantic relationship with someone who struggles with depression, consider the following.
Learn about depression. Many people don’t understand what exactly it is. You can show your care for the depressed person by learning about their struggle. Google, YouTube, and Pinterest it.
Talk with them about the depression. Don’t let it become a silent topic. Everyone wants to be heard and depressed people are no exception. Ask questions. Start with “When did you begin feeling like this?” or “How can I best support you right now?”
Don’t take it personally. If the person speaks harshly toward you in the depths of depression, it is often not about you. Filter those comments through that lens and don’t take it personally. Obviously, deal with the truth of their words even if delivered harshly.
Be patient. The person is your friend or sibling or spouse and they are struggling. Stop what you are doing, sit down, take some time, and journey with them. Patiently.
Affirm, affirm, affirm. I’ve notice that people in the middle of depression lack perspective on good things. I find it helps people to say things like, “You are a great __________” or “I hope you know ____________ is incredibly good in your life.” Give details. Explain why you say it. Repeat the affirmations. I may say the same things over and over, sometimes in the same conversation.
Speak the truth. If someone says something that is not true, don’t let it slide. If someone says, “I aways screw things up” or “Only bad things happen to me,” let them finish their thought, but don’t let what is not true go unaddressed. It can develop into a irrefutable truth for them that is ever harder to dismantle later. Simply say, “I hear what you are saying, but I don’t believe it at all” and then explain why.
Get them moving. Sitting on the couch playing Candy Crush, scrolling through Facebook, or staring at the television is not helping. Do whatever you can to get them moving Have them help do household chores, go for a walk with them, go run errands together, or, if possible, get them exercising. Distance running has been great for Cile.
Invite them places. The depressed person feels like isolating and the more they isolate the fewer invitations to go to parties or other social gathers. They may still say no, but the depressed person will still value being asked. Even better, they may say yes.
Pray for them. Some people say they will pray and don’t. Actually pray. Ask God to remove the veil of darkness from the depression. Ask for specific help for immediately felt burdens. I’ve seen God do some amazing things.
Love them. Doing everything above is loving them. So is just physically being with them and telling them again and again that you love them.
Seven things to avoid saying
I’ve said and learned from, and heard and cringed over many unhelpful words to depressed people. Here are some things to avoid saying.
“Just snap out of it.” If they could, they would. Not helpful.
“You should ___________.” Remove the word “should” from your vocabulary. It is you trying to fix things by imposing your solutions. This is not about fixing. A friend of mine says, “Don’t should on me” whenever someone says, “You should ______.”
“Look on the bright side.” You do want them to see what is good, but only this platitude in a sentence is saying too little.
“It’s all in your head.” Usually they mean by this, it is imagined problems. Tilting at windmills. That is not true. Most forms of depression are a chemical change in the brain after a painful event or around childbirth.
“What’s wrong with you?” One thing that is wrong in their life at the moment is the person who is asking, “What’s wrong with you?” They are depressed. It’s a thing. it happens.
“If your faith was stronger you wouldn’t feel this way.” Don’t faith shame. I believe it is true that if someone were to have a supernatural experience of the radiant holiness of God, their life would be flooded with the light of God and darkness would fall away. Still, faith shaming doesn’t help.
“Why are you still depressed?” This is where the patience mentioned above is needed. Depression may be present for years.
If the risk of suicide seems real
It may be hard to think your loved one would ever consider suicide, but depressed people sometimes find life so difficult or their situation so dire that their judgment is clouded. Suicidal people rarely have a death wish. It is not that they want to die; they want the pain to go away and they see no other way but through death.
Here are warning signs someone may be contemplating suicide
Preoccupation about death and dying
Talking about how they feel utterly hopeless, helpless, or alone. Along with this may be expressing self-hate.
Giving away valuable items
Saying what amounts to goodbyes to loved ones
Sudden interest in pills, weapons, or other lethal objects
Describing how they would take their life in details about how, where, and when.
Sudden sense of calm after a depression
If you believe your loved one is at immediate risk of suicide, take action.
Do NOT leave them alone
Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 (TALK)
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