Tag Archives: depresion

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?


Study Refutes Depression Gene Finding – Yahoo! News

Here’s an article a friend passed along that highlights a new study on the challenges of tracking down the cause of different types of mental illnesses. A 2003 study linked a gene mutation that interrupted the neurochemical seratonin increased the risk of depression. The new study seems to refute that claim, or at least temper it quite a bit. Here’s one quotation:

Study Refutes Depression Gene Finding – Yahoo! News: “Scientists have had an unusually tough time linking specific genes with different psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The likely reason: The genetic and environmental interactions are both more subtle and more complex than in many other diseases, said Keith A. Young, vice chair of research at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science.”

The “cause” of depression is elusive and tricky. Biochemical, situational, and spiritual elements can all come into play. How to unravel the mystery? We, of course, may never be able to completely unravel it. As Lutherans, though, we are blessed with an understanding of God’s world that takes into consideration all of these factors, and does not see them as contradictory. I can look at mental illness, recognize the physiological causes, but also see how my life affects it, and how my spiritual life impacts and is impacted by it.

One thing is for sure. It’s not as clear as a broken leg.

Todd Peperkorn
aka DMR