Dealing With Depression, Part One

Over the next few days, I want to discuss depression.  Perhaps you don't suffer from depression, but I urge you to read the posts anyway because there may come a time when you need to help someone who does suffer from depression, and you'll know what to do.  First off, let me say that depression is very real and is not restricted to the unsaved.  Yes, even Christians can fall into depression.  Look at the Biblical examples of Job, David and Elijah, and you'll see that some of Scriptures' greatest heroes experienced feelings of hopelessness and despair.  Also, please don't assume that someone who is suffering from depression must be living in sin or out of fellowship with God.  I can tell you from personal experience that it has been during some of my closest walks with God that depression has hit me.

Before I delve into treating depression, I want to speak to those of you who may be called upon to help or counsel those who are suffering depression.  When someone is in such a state, they are very fragile emotionally, mentally and even spiritually.  There are no words to describe the depths of hopelessness and feelings of despair that encompass every fiber of the one who is struggling.  So, please, tread lightly .  Speak the truth, yes, but speak it in love.  Make sure that your words are draped in grace and compassion.  I promise you this will make what you have to say better received.

Also, keep in mind that the person may not want you to "fix" them at this point.  They may just need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.  Listen more than you speak.  Take your cues from them.  If they ask for advice, give it gently.  If they don't, simply let them know that you're there for them whenever they want to talk.  Often, it is difficult for the depressed to express their feelings and/or the reason for their feelings because they don't usually understand them themselves.  Just having someone there to listen with a compassionate heart makes a world of difference and helps to remind the person that they're not alone in their struggle.

Lastly, don't lose sight of the fact that hurting people aren't usually logical or rational.  Yes, they may know exactly what they need to do to get themselves out of the slump, but it's possible they've lost sight of that in the midst of the darkness.  It's okay to remind them that they know the answers, but again, watch your tone and approach.  You don't shout at a drowning man, "Come on, you know how to swim!"  You throw him a life preserver.  Depressed people need the same care.  Sure, they may know how to "swim," but often they're simply too weary to keep their heads above water.  Shouting instructions at them won't help.  In fact, it could cause them to sink further into their despair.

How can I speak so matter-of-factly about this?  Because I suffer from occasional bouts of depression--some mild, some quite severe.  And I know what it's like to receive the right kind of help and the wrong kind.  I can't describe to you the frustration and helplessness that results from reaching out to someone only to have them say, "Just snap out of it!"  Yeah, like it's that easy!  What?  Do they think I have a happy switch, and I merely forgot to turn it on that day?

Seriously, friends, this is a dangerous issue.  Depression is real, and it's horrible!  If you've never been through it, thank the Lord!  If you have, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  My point today is not so much toward the depressed but for those dealing with the depressed.  Discouraged people feel all alone, like no one in the world could possibly understand.  It's important to let them know that they're not alone, that you care, and that you're willing to help them in any way you can.  Don't judge, criticize or evaluate them.  Just be there for them.  Listen.  Show compassion.  And above all, pray for them!  I assure you, they need it.

Lord willing, in the next post, we'll begin discussing some key factors in dealing with depression.

Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. - Galatians 6:2