Learning to help

This is a question I get a lot. Often from wives, fellow pastors, circuit counselors, even an occasional district president. What do you do with someone who suffers from depression? It sounds like a slightly ridiculous question, but it is a hugely important one. If we are going to be the Body of Christ to those who suffer, then that service of love must take on flesh and blood. We have to think through what we can actually do, and perhaps even more importantly, we have to recognize what we cannot do.

Let’s start with #2, and work our way back to #1. What can’t you do to help someone who suffers from depression?

  1. You can’t fix it. There is no pill, no prayer, no magical words you can say that are simply going to make things better. One of the greatest dangers that those of use who love those who suffer face is the mistaken notion that I can control the situation. I am not God, to kill and make alive. I cannot control the medication, their soul, their psyche, or really much of anything else when it comes to someone else. By recognizing this simple reality, it frees you to not be God and then to be His child.
  2. There is no one solution. God has created us in wonderful, mysterious ways. The intersection of the body, mind and spirit is far beyond our understanding. In the same way, a disease like clinical depression has many facets to it. There is a clear spiritual dimension that requires serious pastoral care (we’ll get to that more). There is a clear physiological dimension that requires real medical care. And there is a clear psychological element that also requires the expertise and care of a counselor, psychologist, or someone trained in the healing of the mind. By presenting the problem as one dimensional, all we really end up doing is creating more layers of guilt and shame when things continue to unravel. Do we really need that? I think not.
  3. You can’t simply blame them. I know it’s tempting. I know that the clinically depressed person is nearly impossible to live with. If it’s any consolation, it is probably even harder for them to live with themselves. They are sinners, and so there is sin involved. But they are also trapped by their own failures, and the interaction of their own failings with this disease means that they need mercy and love and care, not guilt. This, by the way, is true for all of us, not simply the clinically depressed.

That’s what we can’t do. Here is what you can do:

  1. Pray. This is not simply pious talk. The clinically depressed have a terrible time with prayer. You can pray for them because they may not be able to pray for themselves. Pray for faith, strength, wisdom, and pray that the right people would enter into their lives so that healing may begin.
  2. Serve. One of the hardest things to do when dealing with the depressed is to serve them. Our Lord gives us the picture of humble service on the night when He was betrayed. The service which we render may mean really mundane things, like a meal or watching children for a while or a night to themselves. It probably isn’t pointing out to them what’s wrong. Simply demonstrating that you love them in word or deed really goes a long way.
  3. Intercede. What I mean by this is that very often, the clinically depressed are not able to advocate for themselves. This may involve insurance companies, church, work, or even with family. It could be that what they need most is someone who is willing to sit with them and help them to actually make sense of some element of care that just escapes them. I’ll write more on this soon.

These are just a few thoughts that come to mind. How about you? What have you found that is the most helpful or unhelpful?

-DMR

5 thoughts on “Learning to help”

  1. to have someone want to spend time with me, as boring and lifeless as I felt, was one thing I craved. It's one thing that I continually crave, but it's easier to just ignore it when I'm feeling ok.

    Just to have someone be there and not feel they had to do things for me (housework) because I lacked the motivation. To me that ended up being a criticism of the way I didn't keep house. They could do those things and interact with me or involve me, as well. But mostly what I wanted was someone to sit with me and feed me the word. No one ever really did, but thankfully I wasn't so far gone that I couldn't glue myself to good podcasts chock full of gospel. Darn, there go those tears again. :-

  2. "By presenting the problem as one-dimensional, all we really end up doing is creating more layers of guilt and shame when things continue to unravel."

    "The clinically depressed have a terrible time with prayer."

    Yes, I agree! Thank you for mentioning this.

  3. I think I might have lost a friend this weekend who got frustrated that she could "fix" me. But that's my job, and I don't expect someone to "save me." She got frustrated and isn't talking to me anymore. I might e-mail this post to her.

  4. I think I might have lost a friend this weekend who got frustrated that she could "fix" me. But that's my job, and I don't expect someone to "save me." She got frustrated and isn't talking to me anymore. I might e-mail this post to her.

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