“It’s not God’s will you suffer from depression” many have been told. “You just need more faith!” Honestly, some believe we can simply choose not to be depressed, as easily as we can change our socks.
Such is not the case.
Try to sugarcoat it all you want, but depression is a REAL disease, and MILLIONS of people suffer from it, including a great number of Christians. The first step in helping someone you love is to see this as a real struggle, not mental drama they’ve created (but more on that later).
The fact is, this world is slowly getting worse, sluggishly being covered in a blanket of darkness by Satan. While we depression sufferers do our best to stay positive and full of light, many of us still agonize from our darkness and despair.
Just to give our struggles an air of legitimacy, and lest you ever feel like our biblical “heroes” were infinitely holier than any of us, immune to such fights, here is a list of quotes from people in the Bible who suffered despair and/or depression:
DAVID — “Why am I discouraged?” (Psalm 42:11a ERV)
ELIJAH — “I’ve had enough,” he told the Lord. “Take away my life. I’ve got to die sometime, and it might as well be now.” (1 Kings 19:4b TLB)
JOB — “Why didn’t I die at birth?” (Job 3:11 TLB)
“I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; only trouble comes.” (Job 3:26 NLT)
“I am disgusted with my life.” (Job 10:1a NLT)
“My heart is broken. Depression haunts my days.” (Job 30:16 TLB)
JEREMIAH — “Curse the day that I was born!” (Jeremiah 20:14a ERV)
“My entire life has been filled with trouble, sorrow, and shame.” (Jeremiah 20:18 NLT)
JESUS — “He sank into a pit of suffocating darkness. He told them, ‘I feel bad enough right now to die.’” (From Mark 14 MSG)
Depression is real, and just because you may not experience it does NOT mean those who do are spiritually lacking somehow. Trying to show them the error of their ways is not the way to approach it; we see that as saying, “You should be more like me!”
There are things you definitely should not say to a person who suffers depression. I’ve taken the following points from the Intrepid Mental Health (https://www.intrepidmentalhealth.com/) website article, 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Depressed Person, although I’ve made my own comments after each one.
- “Cheer Up.” Ha, this is like telling a kid who just fell down and busted her knee open, “don’t hurt; don’t bleed.” YEESH. Would you tell a person with cancer, “Don’t be sick?”
- “This too shall pass.” Yeah, no kidding. We know this’ll pass…eventually. But for now, we just need your encouragement and love!
- “What do you have to be depressed about?” When I was a teenager, new to depression, I tried to tell a family member about my feelings, and she literally laughed at me, asking, “What on EARTH do you have to be depressed about?” You can bet I never talked to her about depression again. Comments like this do not shake us out of our darkness; rather, they makes us feel foolish for the true emotions we are trying to overcome.
- “You’re being so dramatic.” Even if you feel he IS being dramatic, never tell him! This pushes him further away, and basically says, “I neither care about your depression, nor what I perceive to be your melodrama.” Your whole emotional make-up, your entire mental persona, may be wholly different from his, so do NOT try to see him through your personal “rose-colored glasses.” It’s better to assume he is being serious, and try to help him, as opposed to assuming he’s making it all up just to get attention.
- “It’s all in your head.” Well, YEAH, we know that, duh. It’s a mental battle, but depression is not something people create. This is cruel and demeaning to say to a depression sufferer. Can you imagine someone basically waking up each morning and asking, “What shall we be depressed about today?”
- “You don’t look depressed.” We learn to adapt to our surroundings, so if she is close to someone who truly doesn’t give a rip about her depression, she will try to acclimate to that. In other words, she’ll pretend everything is ok because she thinks that’s what you want her to do. She doesn’t want to burden you, so she develops what I call an “I’m fine” mask. Look closely; she probably wears it every single day, and you may not even be aware. If she battles depression and normally doesn’t talk about her feelings, but then suddenly one day says, “I’m having a hard time,” BELIEVE ME, she’s having a really hard time! Do not ignore her!
- “Snap out of it.” Again, you would not say to a sick person, “Just don’t be sick.” The fact that you may have different emotional struggles doesn’t mean he is weak or pathetic. Don’t tell him to “snap out of it.”
- “It could be worse.” This and #10 seem to go together somewhat, and I’ve had a lot of people who try to use this on me, thinking it’ll help. It doesn’t. Reminding her things could be worse only reminds her that…well…things could be worse.
- “Don’t be selfish.” Is self-preservation selfish? Is it selfish to crave a sliver of LIGHT to shine brightly into his world of DARKNESS? Has it occurred to you, the most selfless act he could ever do is try to bring you in to his world of suffering?
- “You think YOU have it bad…” Reminding her of how bad other people have it, in an attempt to make her suddenly feel better about her situation, is basically saying, “THIS person has every reason to be depressed, whereas YOU do not.” Whether you mean it to be or not, it’s demeaning. You’re telling her, “Others have the right to be depressed; you don’t.”
Regarding how to encourage a depressed friend or family member, I found this list of “do’s” and “don’ts” from the Very Well Mind website (https://www.verywellmind.com/) article The Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed (Schimelpfening, 2020). Again, I took the bullet points from the article, but made my own comments after each one.
- Minimize their feelings – This falls into the “it can’t be THAT bad” category. No offense, but how do YOU know how bad it is?
- Dismiss their symptoms – This is dangerous, and has cost many lives. “She’s been depressed about something or another, but she’ll get over it.” What if she doesn’t?
- Deny their feelings – I’ve had people try to tell me that I was either “overstating” my depression, exaggerating it somehow. This is dismissive and insulting. I’m not trying to be rude. As my pastor says, I’m just keeping it real.
- Compare their feelings to others – I covered this a little already, but never say to someone, “Some are justified in being depressed; you are not.” I know you don’t mean to say that, but sometimes you do.
- Express apathy – Reaching out to someone, only to be met with a feeling of indifference, is the WORST kind of heartbreak. Believe me, I know.
- Call them selfish – Covered this one as well, but fighting to survive is never selfish.
- Tell them you care – Sometimes that’s all you CAN do: tell them, “I love you, and I care. I’m here for you.” We know you can’t “fix it,” so please don’t try.
- Ask how you can help – LOVE this one! Don’t try to figure it out yourself; ask the person, “What do you need? Is there anything I can do? Bring me in; tell me what would help you.” This is what my wife asks me, and sometimes I have nothing to tell her except to love me and be patient. Thankfully, she does.
- Take care of tasks like chores or errands – Just helping out with everyday tasks can be a huge help. I recall once when I was at home, having a hard time, and my daughter called and said, “Hey dad, I’ll pick mom up from work so you don’t have to get back out again.” This seemingly insignificant errand meant so much to me! When my son-in-law offered to mow my lawn this summer, it lifted a HUGE burden. Part of this was because of my chronic pain, but pain and depression are two limbs on the same tree.
- Offer to help them find help – Many don’t get help because they don’t know HOW. If you can help them, please do so. I remember a time when I was in college and one of my friends became aware I was going through a very hard time. He contacted the school counselor, who contacted me. I went in and talked to her, and she equipped me with tools I could use to fight off those dark emotions.
- Express empathy and understanding – Even though it may not feel like much to you, saying, “I care, and I’m so very sorry for your struggles. I love you, and we’ll get through this together” means a lot. Sometimes, it can mean the world to a friend or loved one. Sometimes it can save their life.
- Be supportive – Just knowing you’re in our corner is such an encouragement!
Love your depressed friend or family member. LOVE them! Be there for them. Let them know you respect their feelings, and will stick by them no matter what. This means everything to us!
I was going to post a list of Scriptures, but rather than repeat myself, here’s a link to my blog, 15 Bible Verses to Wage War on Depression:
Thanks for caring enough about depression sufferers to read this, and please share it with someone who needs it. Feel free to drop any comments or questions below. Also, if you’d like us to specifically pray for a certain person, please leave their first name below, and we’ll be praying for them! Don’t give up on them, there is always hope, as long as you love and care for them!