Friday, October 4, 2019

Dealing with Depression

Someone asked a little while ago whether I had written anything for people struggling with depression, or whether I could do so now. While thinking about it, I realized this was a question that would inevitably have me come up short. Depression, while experienced by so many people, is an intensely personal issue. I do not think it is possible to speak of it generally enough to be helpful to people going through it. It requires individual intervention. And of course, I cannot use one of these articles to spell out answers to a particular person.

The best advice I can give to a depressed person comes in three parts. First, recognize if that might be what is going on. Only you can really decide to seek treatment for yourself, so do not ignore the warning signs. If you have faced a loss (it does not really matter what it was) that has left you chronically unable to enjoy anything, lethargic, if you are avoiding people generally, irritable, distracted, or if you have thoughts about harming yourself, then you may be depressed. That is not necessarily what any of these things mean, but they are all bad enough to be worth checking out, anyway. Don’t waste time in doing so.

Which is the second piece of advice. If you think you might be depressed, seek out help. This is not something you should try to go through alone. A pastor is a good place to start. In general, he will not be able to take you through an entire course of treatment unless he is also trained as a professional counselor. However, he can offer specific encouragement and refer you to a counselor or psychologist who can dive deeper with you. Also, you can call your health insurance provider and ask them for a list of in-network counselors. That way you know who you can afford to see, and you can also get some names and search for reviews online. Lastly, you can visit the American Association of Christian Counseling to search for someone in your area who will incorporate a spiritual component into your care.

Third and finally, take that spiritual component seriously. This can be an issue in psychiatry. Many experts only want to treat the mind, specifically the chemistry of the mind. But you are more than a brain. It is important for you to know, whatever you are experiencing, that God loves you and He will be with you to carry you through it. True wholeness only comes about through being connected in relationship to the Lord. That was what He made us for. Do all you can to remember that for yourself, and try to find a counselor who will actively remind you of it, as well.

That is all I can offer in the limits of this format. I do hope it will be helpful to someone and allow them to find hope for themselves. But I also think it is worthwhile to say a few words to people who are not struggling with depression. One of the hardest parts about being depressed is the feeling of isolation, of being misunderstood and unwanted. And sadly, that is not always merely an impression. It is easy to be uncomfortable around depressed people, which unfortunately leads them to be even further alienated. It takes conscious effort to realize their need for us and to provide it.

Understand that you cannot “fix” someone with depression, and that is not what you are being asked to do. They need your presence, not your solutions. You can offer to help them, absolutely, but it should not be anything in the vein of “just get over it” or “put on a happy face.” Along with that, remember there is a fine line between commiseration and comparison. If you share a related experience, don’t do it in such a way as to minimize what they are going through. Most of all, just listen. We all want to feel understood whether we are happy or sad. When depressed people open up, they are trying to make that connection. Let them. Give them the chance to simply express what they are experiencing and show that you understand. That is the best way to offer the hope that they are not alone.

This, I feel, is also scriptural instruction. In Rom. 12:15 we are told to “weep with those who weep.” When the people around us struggle with suffering, Christians should be the first to empathize. That is our calling. It is also the example left for us by Jesus Christ, who suffered with and for humanity (John 11:28–36; Is. 53:1–9). It is important, however, to do so in the right way. We must not become lost in the grief of another, feeling it so closely that we cannot see beyond it. As in every other struggle, the goal is to recognize and share the hope of glory that all those in Christ will experience (1 Thess. 4:13).

We have the promise of life beyond death. That does not make everything in this world better, but it does make things more bearable (as I recently discussed in my article on change). We need to have this sober acknowledgment front and center when helping those in depression. If they hear us saying that everything should be easy, and then they find that it is not, it will only make them wonder what else is wrong with them. We have to avoid offering empty comfort. True comfort requires patience on the part of those who offer it and receive it.

Be compassionate. So many people treat depression as a sign of weakness. It is, but it is a weakness any of us can experience. If you were hurting, would you only want to be told that you drag down the mood of others? Or would you want to feel understood? “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them” (Luke 6:31).

I’ll also mention that anyone can make a referral to counseling. Again, however, it is a matter of empathy. You do not want to flippantly tell a depressed person that they need counseling. That comes across as a brush off, and it suggests that you consider them to be crazy. Be willing to have an intentional conversation about it. Tell them the good that talking to a mental health professional can do. If you encourage them that there is nothing wrong with seeking help, that it is in fact something worthy of respect rather than shame, then they will be more likely to do it.

Depression is a serious issue that requires serious attention from everyone in it and around it. The worst thing anyone can do is to ignore it. Hopefully, these few thoughts will be helpful in taking it head on.

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