“Do you want encouragement, or do you need me to slap you?” This is what my friend just asked me after knowing I’m struggling like all get out. And she was right to ask me. Because she didn’t know which I needed. Although, when I’m in the throws of this suffocating depression I don’t even know what I need. But the question made me laugh so I suppose I just needed a small bit of humor.
But what does a depressed person need? Let’s actually start with what you SHOULDN’T do–
don’t judge them. having depression doesn’t mean they’ve done anything wrong. it doesn’t mean they don’t believe in God. it doesn’t mean they are sad. it doesn’t mean they haven’t read their Bible enough. it doesn’t mean there’s unconfessed sin in their life. do not judge them!
don’t do to them what makes you feel better for you. you know, like hugging the person who hates hugs, or getting together with the person who needs quiet, or talking about the people you know who are dealing with depression or about that one time you were so sad. what do THEY need? it could be different than what YOU need. and it probably is.
don’t tell them how to “fix” themselves unless either a) you have been through it already and are giving them some ideas on relief, b) you’ve done a ton of your own research and are willing to walk with them through all of the ideas you’ve found, or c) you are willing to pay for them to get medical treatment. “you need to read your Bible,” “you need to think positive.” these are not helpful.
don’t tell them the logical reason why they shouldn’t feel bad. they know in their head all of the good that’s around them. they know they have a nice house, a good family, that the sun is out, that the coffee tastes good. don’t forget, they aren’t sad. they have a medical illness. just as soon as you can think your way out of a bout with pneumonia then you can expect them to think their way out of mental illness.
don’t tell them about the other depressed person you know in an effort to have them go through it together. depressed people can hardly help themselves, let alone someone else.
What DOES a depressed person need when they’re in the worst of the muck? Here are some things I’ve come up with (choose something that works for you and start there):
do an everyday task for them. make them a healthy meal. mow their lawn. do their laundry at your house and then return it clean and folded. if you’re close enough to the person, clean their house. pick the kids up from school (with their permission). everyday tasks seem like giant mountains to them that you can climb for them.
pray for them. don’t even worry about asking how to pray. just pray. pray for healing. pray for relief. pray for the people living with them who are in the trenches with them. pray that they make good choices even when it’s hard. pray. and if you are able to pray over them in person, do so.
be understanding. if they cancel their meeting with you, be okay with it. if you see them acting silly and happy, don’t question it. take your cues from them. remember the verse Romans 12:15? it says “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” they may not want to be around people, and that’s okay. just send them texts of encouragement so they can look at them on their own time. understand that they have an illness and work with it.
help their caregiver. most people already have a caregiver like a spouse or close friend. ask that person how you can help THEM. it can have nothing to do with the person dealing with depression. you could wash the caregiver’s car. you could take a load of garbage to the dump for them. you could take their car in to have the oil cleaned. you could clean their gutters. you could send them away to have lunch out while you watch the kids. if they don’t have a caregiver, check in regularly with them asking two simple questions.
go on walks with them. make them small at first, and convenient for them. walk for 10 minutes. even if it’s just a slow trudge. then add two more minutes every few walks. even if it’s raining. they need to be outside for a bit and they definitely need their blood pumping. be careful though. if you’re not someone they know well and trust completely you could turn into more of a nag each time you beg them to walk with you.
read up about depression on medical web sites. learn about it from a medical perspective so you can understand more. if all you know is from what you’ve heard or seen over the years then you’re doing your friend AND you a disservice. become educated.
send them notes of encouragement. whether through facebook or e-mail, texting or *gasp* snail mail, a word of encouragement can be powerful (just keep in mind the other tips above as you’re writing it).
As a depressed person it can be SUPER awkward to share the information above with friends and family. It’s like you’re saying “you’re not helping me right!” So if you could do the world a favor and share this post with YOUR friends and family so that it’s less awkward for the rest of us, that would be awesome!