How to help a loved one with depression
Seven things to remember when everything is not OK.
A shift in demeanour; a faded smile; a closed bedroom door; a distinct lack of delight. These can all be markers of depression, seen from the outside. The experience happening inwardly is different between people - sometimes it’s a sluggishness, sometimes it’s despair, sometimes it’s an ache. Depression shows itself differently in everyone, but there can be no doubt that it is painful and persistent. I have suffered with it for fourteen years, and this black dog has been my companion on and off for those years. I have also been on the other side, caring for those with depression.
But so often, we don’t know how to help. We so desperately want to, we want to ease the pain, and fix the ache, but we can be paralysed by helplessness. We need to know what to do, and we need to understand what is happening. Here, then, are seven things you need to remember when someone you love is experiencing depression.
You are not the Messiah
You cannot take away depression with a simple command, you are not capable of calming that storm in someone’s mind by mere words. Your task is not to rescue someone from their depression. There is a limit to what we can do, and since we are not the Messiah, we need to trust the Messiah to do His own work. We are not the Messiah, but we can ask Jesus to step in and work powerfully. We can ask Him for wisdom in how to move forward. We can ask him for words to say. It is important to always remember our limits, because if we do not, the weight of despair when we cannot calm the storm, will bring us to our knees in pain.
Treat the whole person
Prayer is powerful and effective, but depression is not a simply spiritual ailment. Please, pray. Pray, pray, pray! But ensure your friend seeks the help of medical experts who can help unravel and explain what is happening - a GP can refer to a psychologist, who can assess the need for medication and work out the root of what is happening. These people are God-given helps to us. Use them.
One of the greatest lies someone with depression can believe is that they are not loved, and that they are completely alone. To love someone with depression is to remind them again and again of their value. You must tell them the truth about themselves, because the beautiful truth of the gospel is that in spite of our brokenness and sin, we are loved beyond belief. That love is not because of who we are - but because of who God is. Depression will tell someone that there is nothing loveable within them, but the gospel says that they are loved beyond belief, in spite of themselves.
You aren’t helpless
You may not be able to chase the black dog away, but you can find ways to be helpful while depression is around. Each person has things that bring them comfort. In the midst of my own depression, a trip to the beach to listen to the waves and feel the sand between my toes brought comfort, and on the days when getting out of bed was not an option, a cup of tea was a small comfort. There are always things you can do within the depression, to simply be there and bring some small comfort - but you must be willing to try and try and fail and try again.
You must take care of yourself
Your limitations, as someone who is not the Messiah, mean that there will be moments when you need to care for your own health. You will need to pause, to pray, to do something to reenergise yourself, because wearing yourself down will not be a help to anyone. Find someone to talk to about what you are feeling - a trusted friend will do - and make sure that you are finding space to cope with what’s happening. Stay well. Eat well. Exercise. Do everything you can to make sure that you don’t end up with your own black dog as a companion.
There is hope
Depression is not the end. Depression is a manageable mental illness. It is something that can be fought and can be beaten, and though that fight may be long (even life-long), it is not a hopeless battle. God has given us so many ways to fight. He can heal. He can use medication and psychologists to bring relief. He can use sand and tea and seas and hugs to bring comfort. There is always, always hope. There is always hope in Jesus, and He will not abandon your loved one to their depression.
A shift in demeanour; a faded smile; a closed bedroom door; a distinct lack of delight. These can all give way. The smile can return, the door can be open again, and the delight can creep back in. It might be slow and it might be temporary, but there is always reason to hope. You are not the Messiah, but the Messiah does care. You have medical experts to help. You have love to give. You have to care for yourself. But there is always, always hope.