By Pastor Scott Roberts
Everyone knows someone who is depressed, or they have suffered with depression themselves. The reality is that depression1 – the persistent lack of feeling pleasure, the struggle with energy, the sense of worthlessness, the weight changes and diminished ability to think –has become as commonplace in society as the air we breathe. The reasons for this are the subject of much scholarly debate. However, each Christian does not need to know why depression comes, but rather how to help those who are in the midst of the fog that depression brings.
One of the greatest gifts we can give those living with depression is to listen and understand the suffering that accompanies those living in the depths. In order to understand, we must ask questions about the history of their experience. What events led to the present experience of depression? What is the family history of the person with depression? This isn’t to equate family history with genetics, but rather to ask the question as a listener, “Could this be a learned behavior?” Ask how the person has responded to challenges in life and the place of God in the dark times. As we listen, we need to allow people living with depression to express their frustrations, fears, worries and disappointments with life, with others, and even with God.
A simple look at the Psalms shows 13 different songs crying out, “How long, O Lord?” During the questioning and discussion time, the listener/counselor may be tempted to want to move on to cheerier subjects or to put a godly spin upon the situation. Avoid the temptation, for it will seem that you are ignoring the pain and difficulty of the suffering person. Simply listen and intercede in your heart for God to come and be present with each of you. After sufficient listening, the counselee needs the truth of Scripture. Some passages of worth might be 1Cor 10:13, Phil 4;13, Rom 8:31-35. These passages help to point the person back to the strength that God provides in the midst of hardship.
One of the trickier things to show those with depression is that depression is a symptom of the interpretation we give to the events we have experienced in life. As things outside our control occur, our mind and heart interpret those events and assign a meaning to them. For example, someone may walk past us in the hallway and fail to say hello. If we are in a depressed state, we interpret that to mean that they ignored us because we aren’t valuable.
This leads us to believe the interpretation, and then fall into depression which leads us to interpret other events in a continued downward spiral. This isn’t the sum total cause of depression, but it is major contributing factor to the downward spirals in which many people find themselves trapped. Therefore, one of the goals in helping the depressed person is to help them change the internal interpretations that are assigned to external events. These new interpretations will lead to new experiences that can help to lift people out of the mire.
Therefore, we want to encourage people to think rightly about God, sin and self (Rom 6:11, 1 Cor 6:9-11, Phil 4:8). We want to help them foster a thankful heart by listing all that God is doing and has done for them (Eph 5:18-21). They need to set small task goals and accomplish them day by day or hour by hour in order to grow a sense of accomplishment that is often elusive to those with depression. These are three ways that will help those struggling with depression to get back into the joy of living.
1. For a list of the DSM-5 Criteria for diagnosing depression, see https://www.psycom.net/depression-definition-dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria/