Helping the depressed
People who are depressed need help. Many will withdraw into silent isolation. Our assistance will be more valuable then, than at any other time.
The Bible tells us that love is kind. If we really love a person, we will be considerate, not only when they are strong, but also when they most need us. Here are some suggestions about how we can help, remembering that each case of depression is different.
We can be there when they need us, to help protect them from their self-destructive emotions, mental attitudes and sometimes self-harm. We don’t have to talk much or give advice. Our presence during a time of intense despondency is silent evidence of our love.
Not reinforcing self-pity
We should not help them justify their self-pity, but neither should we condemn them. They need understanding and empathy, not condemnation.
The depressed find themselves in a universe where goals are destroyed and the outlook is negative. Any kindly and gentle whisper of hope is beneficial.
Encouraging thoughts about something besides themselves
Whenever possible, we need to guide the depressed person’s thinking towards others.
Try to engage them in activity
Emotional exhaustion leaves us spent, whereas physical activity tends to refresh the whole system.
Help them to assume their normal responsibilities
We must do this gradually and carefully. We do not need to overload them with responsibilities, because maybe this is the cause of their depression.
Praying with them in a thankful spirit
When we have this chance to pray with a depressed person, we should be very sensitive, praying to God about them and their problem, not at them. We are vulnerable at this point, because our prayer will reveal the level of our understanding about their problem. The depressed will often say that no one could really understand them. When we pray with them, we must let the Holy Spirit guide us.
Prayer is the most important thing when we deal with depression. I am convinced of this, because I have seen how God answered through prayer – with no medical intervention.
But some people do need medical support. Many Christians have been helped through the critical stages of depression by the careful use of anti-depressant medication. Taking an anti-depressant is not accepting that our faith has failed or that we have placed ourselves entirely in the hands of secular humanism.
Other kinds of encouragements
Many can be greatly helped through the writings of Christians who have experienced depression. To read of someone like C. H. Spurgeon, who coped with and triumphed over depression, can be a great help. It is helpful for us to know that many whom God used for his glory have suffered from forms of depression. We can find them either in the Bible, or by looking back in our times, sometimes not so far away.
We know that all is not lost when men like Samuel Rutherford can write: ‘I am at a low ebb as to any sensible communion with Christ, yea, as low as any soul can be, and do scarce know where I am’ (The letters of Samuel Rutherford; Banner of Truth Trust, 1973, p.176).
We can also take encouragement from the great hymns. Many of these have been written in the midst of adversity. William Cowper suffered severe bouts of depression during his life and ministry, yet he could write:
‘Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head’.
George Matheson, author of ‘O love that will not let me go’ and ‘Make me a captive, Lord’, had lost his sight during his late teens. Charlotte Elliot, an invalid for the last fifty years of her life, wrote ‘Just as I am’ on a day when she was feeling particularly unwell and depressed. Henry Francis Lyte wrote ‘Abide with me’ whilst terminally ill.
It is no great wonder that the Bible exhorts us to admonish one another ‘in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs’ (Colossians 3:16).
Reproduced from FIRST! magazine, by permission of the Faith Mission (www.faithmission.org)