We live in a depressed world.
My husband Dan has been a pastor for 48 years. He often says that when he gets up to speak, he believes one-third of the church is currently dealing with depression, one-third is recovering from a battle with depression, and one-third is about to struggle with a season of depression. That is a lot of depressed people! I fit in all three groups. So, I can speak to how the church helps depressed people from several perspectives. First, I have ministered to many people battling depression. Second, I have spent much of my life recovering from bouts of depression and know there are still times of darkness ahead.
I also know God will be with me through it all. So many people have spent years praying that I would be delivered from this illness. I was born with a chemical imbalance that makes me more susceptible to depression. Knowing God created me with what some would call a weakness has taught me that anything that makes me desperate for God can be counted as a blessing.
Being part of a church sensitive to those dealing with depression is very important to me. My husband and I have been very open about the fact that I crashed and burned in 1995 and have been learning how to navigate the waters of mental illness ever since. We reach out and make it very clear that depressed people are very welcome in our church. That is what Jesus would do.
I spent two years at the bottom of a pit called clinical depression. The people of the church helped me climb out of that pit. God’s Word tells us how we can help the depressed, but the church’s people put God’s healing plan into action. Here are seven ways the church can help people like me who battle depression.
1. Listen Intentionally
You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. James 1:19
One of the big reasons people get depressed is that they think that no one understands, no one cares, and no one listens. As a result, they feel isolated and alone. Those who talk with them often try to tell them what they need to do.
I have dealt with chronic depression for most of my life. The last thing I need when I am down is a talker. I need a listener.
We have this picture of Jesus as a twelve-year-old that is both brief and revealing. Luke 2:46 tells us that Jesus spent three days in the temple with the spiritual leaders of the day, “listening to them and asking questions.”
We often avoid those who are depressed because we don’t know what to say. You don’t need to know what to say! You just need to listen and ask questions.
2. Learn about Depression
If you are one of those people who have rarely struggled with any depression but have someone in your life who does, you need to learn about depression. You need to become a student of depression.
I have already shared that I have struggled with depression most of my life. My husband is one of those rare people that seldom deals with depression. However, he decided early in our marriage to become a student of depression. He read books, talked with counselors, and sought wisdom from various people to help me when I struggled with depression.
Turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding. If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:2-6
God is willing to help us understand depression. He is ready to give us his heart for the depressed.
3. Lead with Love
Depressed people often feel unloved. Quite honestly – when you are depressed, you feel unworthy of love. You need people around you who lead with love.
Let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7
If you lead with love, those who are depressed will often respond to that love. On the other hand, if you lead with apathy or arrogance or with a “you just need to get over this” attitude, they will become more depressed.
Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
If you lead with love, love will overcome the mistakes you make trying to help the depressed.
4. Leverage Counseling and Support Groups
I am so grateful God uses counselors and support groups to help the depressed. For example, my counselor in South Florida was used by God to bring healing to me in my darkest days.
The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense. Proverbs 27:9
Betty Wells was the psychiatrist God used to bring me out of the darkness of my depression. She was my friend and my counselor. I still have a painting of Noah’s Ark that Betty gave me during my recovery. She told me it was to remind me that God would give me a fresh start and that my best days were still ahead of me.
Where did I find Betty? Through my church! She was the counselor the church recommended.
I am also grateful that in every church we have served, we have offered counseling, support groups, and one-on-one therapy by qualified professionals who also love Jesus.
5. Lighten Their Load
When you are depressed, even small tasks can seem overwhelming. Some days, just getting out of bed and dressed seemed like a mountain I could not climb. During my worst days of depression, if I was dressed by the time the kids came home from school, it was a good day.
Dan became Mister Mom during that season. Our good friends Jay and Michelle showed up to lighten the load. Michelle would come to my house every Monday with a bucket full of cleaning supplies, a mop, and a broom. She would clean my house and talk with me for two hours. Her husband Jay came with her and sat with Dan on our back porch to see how he was doing and to ask what we needed.
Love shows up!
Find a tangible way to help your depressed friend, family member, or neighbor, and do it! Don’t just call and ask what they need; they rarely tell you. Instead, show up and do it!
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:2-3
When someone is depressed, regular tasks can become undoable burdens. So, show up with your sleeves rolled up and help lighten their load.
6. Let Go of Trying to Fix Them
This one is huge! I cannot tell you how many well-meaning people have tried to fix my depression. Afterward, I felt worse than before they tried to fix me.
Depressed people do not need someone to fix them. They need someone to listen, love, and lighten their load – but they do not need to be your project.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. Psalm 40:2
If we could fix those who are depressed, we would. But only God can lift them out of that pit. So, we need to give up trying to fix them and choose instead to love them back to health.
7. Lean in Rather Than Run Away
This key is a big truth. Loving depressed people can wear you out. They can try your patience and make you want to give up and run away. Don’t quit. Lean in instead.
Trust in God. Lean on your God! Psalm 50:10 (MES)
God has the patience you need to deal with those who are depressed. God has the insight you need. God has the wisdom you need. And God will love them through you if you lean into him.
There is no quick fix for depression. But the church can help the depressed by following these seven truths from Scripture.
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