Depression has been receiving more attention and help in recent years, from public figures coming forward about their mental health struggle to studies about the effect social media has on mental health. However, there is still a stigma to overcome when someone tells you they have depression. As you learn about others with depression, you can help relieve the burden that stigma has created.
Those who share that they have depression have often done a lot of work to say those words aloud. This battle was inside of them for a long time before they were able to share it with you. They might be afraid that you will judge or condemn them in some way.
5 Ways to Help Your Loved One With Depression
If you have not experienced depression yourself it can be a challenge to help those who are sharing with you that they have depression. If your first instinct is to make them feel better, that is an amazing gift. This article will cover five ways you can help your depressed loved one without pushing them away.
1. Trust themIt took a considerable amount of courage for them to share that they struggle with depression. They trusted you with a weight and you should honor that by trusting them in return. Immediately jumping into fix-it mode is not trusting them.
You may want to begin a process toward healing. You might want to take them to the doctor for a prescription. Maybe you are reading this article right now because someone told you they are depressed and you Googled, “How to Help a Depressed Friend.”
The process of understanding mental health is a slow one. The fact that they shared this struggle with you is a big step. Acknowledge that they have made a big step. With each step, they initiate you can be their cheerleader.
You are being included in a journey to peace and joy. It is a long one and you will need to be patient through that journey. Show them you are willing to be there for the long haul by not rushing in to cheer them up.
2. Listen to them “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen more than you should talk.”
This ancient philosophical advice rings true whenever someone is sharing about hard things. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone who is struggling. It is important to listen without a plan. If they ask for advice you can give it, but don’t sit there just waiting to talk.
You may want to share Bible verses, truths from your life, or even pray. Wait until you are invited to talk. Ask more questions about them, rather than dumping advice on their shoulders. Sometimes they may want to talk to unburden themselves, other times it could be a part of the way they process. Your mouth and words may not be required, but your ears and heart being present can do a lot of good.
Listen to the desire for silence as well. There are times when a person who is depressed just needs you to be present without speaking. If they are comfortable around you without talking, consider that an honor. They are trusting you with their pain. Be gentle with them.
3. Ask what they need from you
It is tempting to make a list of things that could cheer your loved one up. Don’t get too hasty though. What cheers you up may be overwhelming to another. Most likely they will not be asking for cheering up, but support and sympathy. If they text you, “I’m having a hard day.” Your response could be, “What can I do to help?”
Sometimes the offer is enough to give them support. Other times they may have a specific action for you to take. Planning to get out of the house and meet for coffee, bringing them comfort food, or just checking in through the day could be what they need.
If both of you are Christians, you need to talk about what they want in terms of prayer and sharing Scripture. Many faithful Christians work through periods of depression and a barrage of Bible verses on joy and trust could be the opposite of helpful. Ask if they would like to hear words from the Bible, and then focus on choosing verses about comfort and love. Read Matthew 11:28-30, Psalm 23, and Psalm 126.
4. Don’t pressure them
Offering to help is wonderful, but you should not push someone to do things that they don’t want to do. Even if it was their idea in the first place. Maybe they said yes to going out for coffee, but when the time came, they withdrew. Be patient while you encourage and wait for them to be ready.If they ask you to hold them accountable for taking prescriptions or going to therapy, have a clear understanding of what that means to them. Laying out clear expectations is good but will require constant adjustments. Do they need you to take them places? Do they want you to text every day or occasionally?
It is important to lay aside any type of comparison. In the mind of a depressed person, they are already convinced that they are failing compared to other people. You need to help them see their victories. Don’t keep a list of things they should be doing, focus on what they are doing. Celebrate the days they feel good and put them at ease when they have days they struggle.
5. Give grace to their limits
Whether you get up each day and make a massive to-do list or fly by the seat of your pants if you don’t have depression, you can accomplish a lot in a day. Those who struggle with depression face limits to their energy and motivation on any given day. Often it fluctuates. Set aside your expectations of what they should be doing.
You would not expect a person with a broken arm to catch a ball well, you would not expect someone with cancer to run a mile. Learning to understand their limits will be a huge help to them on their journey to healing their mental health.
Many Christians who struggle with depression have a rich faith. They learn to trust God through the darkness. Being a Christian is a journey in trusting that God is faithful in the hard parts of life. Limits to what they can handle as a Christian may include all the things you think could help.
If the idea of a Bible study is too much for them, be okay with that. If they don’t want to listen to your favorite pastor, don’t be offended. They are working out their faith not yours, so give them grace through that journey.
When someone in your life is experiencing depression and they choose to share that with you, consider it an invitation to love as Jesus would. He comes alongside each person he meets with compassion. He listens to the requests they make (Matthew 10:46-52), he accepts the limits they place on him (Matthew 8:5-13), he gives grace when they are afraid (Luke 8:46-48), he doesn’t pressure them to anything they aren’t ready to do (Mark 10:17-27), and above all trusts the ones who come to him (John 3:1-21).
As you walk alongside the people who have trusted you with their journey toward mental health, be curious, patient, and compassionate. This will give you the ability to share in the joy and peace that will come with healing.
“Friends”, Courtesy of Erika Giraud, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Comfort”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends”, Courtesy of Thought Catalog, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wisdom from the Word”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License