How to Support Those with Depression
You may know this week is Mental Health Awareness Week and so I've decided to write today about mental illness.
My depression began back in the mid-nineties when I became ill with ME, although I wasn't aware then that I was suffering from depression. It became worse just after the birth of my son because of post-natal depression. Although those close to me were aware I was struggling, I hid most of it from them. I hid it from my midwife and health visitor because I was afraid of what they might think, say or do. Once my son reached his first birthday the depression did ease a little. But I made a promise to myself that if it got worse again then I would do something about it rather than suffering in silence. I also didn't want to make life harder for those closest to me. Depression is hard not just on the one suffering but the ones who care for them too. When my daughter was born I did need to seek help from our Doctor and I was prescribed antidepressants. These help to keep me on more of an even keel, so whilst there are days when I am free from it, there are other times when it comes back with a vengeance.
Thankfully, mental illness is not such a taboo subject any more, although there is still more progress to be made in this area. I think it is so important for it to be out in the open. For it to be recognised and acknowledged.
Since coming to terms with my illness I made the decision to speak out about it. I find when I'm open and honest about how I am, it releases others to speak out about their own struggles.
I think it's also important for the church not to shy away from it and not to keep silent. Keeping silent gives the message we are not interested in anyone who suffers from mental health and can also give a false impression that Christians don't experience mental illness. Anyone - male or female, young or old, wealthy or poor, Christians or non-Christians - can all suffer from mental illness. We need the church to be a place of acceptance and a safe place where people can come and be themselves. Somewhere they don't need to pretend that everything is fine and a place where they know they won't be judged based on their health or any other criteria.
What can we do as individuals and as the church to support those coping with mental illness?
1. Build relationships.
Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Romans 15:7 (NLT)
This will take time because people need to feel loved, accepted and safe before they will feel able to open up. Some days they may be more open to a friendship than others, but don't take offence or take it personally if they appear closed off one day - it is not a reflection on you but more about how the illness is affecting them.
2. Ask them how they are.
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:4 (NLT)
I'm not referring to the polite, general question asked when you meet up with someone, but the kind of question which is asked in such a way that it's clear you really want to know how they are doing. If they have opened up to you in the past and shared about their health, they may feel vulnerable when they see you next. Don't ignore the subject - ignoring it will give them the false impression you aren't interested or you don't care. Even if you're not sure what to say, I've found it's more helpful personally to acknowledge it rather than dismiss the person's state of health. Dismissing it can make them feel that you are actually dismissing them, even though you may not be. I've always appreciated being asked a genuine question such as "How are you doing today?" or "What has your week been like?" If you haven't seen them for a while it may be that they are having a particularly bad time and cannot face leaving their home. I know that has been the case for me sometimes. You could consider dropping them a text or post them a card just to let them know they are not forgotten. For myself, when I'm in a bout of depression a card or text is preferable to a phone call because I can't face answering the phone.
3. Listen to them.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. James 1:19 (NLT)
Give them time and space to talk as much or as little as they want. I know myself that sometimes I may want to talk about it, but other times I may just be in need of some company. If they want to talk allow them to say what's on their mind or hearts and don't judge or condemn them if what they say does not fit with your values or beliefs.
4. Use more time listening than speaking.
Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips. Psalm 141:3 (NLT)
Questions show genuine interest and that you want to understand what they are going through. Usually, they are not looking for advice or quick fix responses, so think before you speak. Don't quote the Bible at them, or tell them to snap out of it or make the point that others are far worse off than they are - these things are really not helpful!
5. Offer to pray for them but only if you feel a prompting from God.
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)
Don't just assume you can pray for them and don't tell them you're going to pray without asking them if they would like prayer. Offer it in such a way they can say if they don't want prayer. I remember being in church one Sunday some years back and breaking down in tears. A woman sitting behind me assumed she knew why I was crying and proceeded to pray for me - it actually did me more harm than good. Her assumption of what was making me cry was wrong and I did not want prayer. On the other hand, being sensitively prayed for by someone who cares can be such a blessing. Of course, there is nothing to stop you from praying for the person in your own time, in fact, I would encourage you to do so.
If you want to know more about mental health then a great website with lots of information is https://www.mindandsoulfoundation.org
You may also find it helpful to read this article from their website: 16 Things Not To Say
Another website worth looking at is https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk
To Think About:
Is there someone you know who suffers from mental illness? What can you do to show them that you care about them?
Do you think any of the 5 points above will change how you now interact with others?
How can you help to make the church a safe place for those of us who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses?
If what you read was of interest to you, then you may like to know that my book "Dear Friend...52 Weekly Devotions to Encourage, Challenge and Inspire" is available to buy from Amazon, on Kindle or in paperback. (Its content is material adapted from past blog posts.) To learn more, click on the link below: