According to recent studies, nearly 10 percent of Americans report having depression. What does that mean? We all go through periods of negative emotions, but chronic depression is a uniquely debilitating struggle. Those of us who don't experience physical or continuous depression may lack confidence in reaching those who do. We fear saying the wrong thing or not doing enough to encourage our loved ones. It's challenging because there are so many resources with differing advice. Some say, "Just tell them it's okay to be where they are." While others say, "Give them all the self help books you can find." There's no black-and-white manual to supporting people with depression, but we can find more astute guidance than that.
God calls us to connect with others, even when uncomfortable. However, the context of a relationship can determine how our words are received. Is the person in mind someone you talk to daily, an acquaintance, or is there tension between you? Before reaching out, try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they'll perceive your approach.
If they're your best friend or close family member, they are more likely to know your intentions. With someone more distant, showing them you aren't judging or wanting to invade their privacy will take intentionality. If the person comes to you with their struggles, start by simply listening rather than saying what you would do if it were you. Be a person that shares peace and wisdom, and pray for discernment.
It's easy to tell someone they're worthy of love and there is hope for their future. It's also easy for them to ignore your words as "kind lies." Too often, people with depression feel more alone because their peers invalidate their reality. Depression has real mental and physical symptoms and can come from a chemical imbalance that isn't solved by "positive thoughts." For a follower of Jesus, mental health issues may bring guilt with thoughts such as, "I'm experiencing this darkness because I'm not a good enough Christian." or "God would heal me if I had more faith." While our faith affects our mental health, mental conditions do not reflect our relationship with God.
Prayer is always helpful, but telling someone to pray more won't help if they already are. A big part of why we pray is for wisdom to take tangible actions; for someone with depression, the action they need could be therapy or medication. The best thing you can do as a loved one is let them know it's okay to seek medical help.
If you're concerned for someone's safety, you may need to directly ask if they have thought about harming themselves or had suicidal thoughts, according to Sun Valley Community Church Care and Recovery Director Jessica Faris. Make sure they know you aren't judging and the question comes from a place of love. If there is reason to believe the person is in danger of harming themself, the next step is to call 911 so that a crisis intervention team can come to assess them. If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or other mental health battles, you can also call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
Blurting out Bible verses will probably not help someone with depression, whether they're a believer or not. Offering comfort based on God’s Word can be encouraging, if the person you’re talking to invites it, and as long as it’s not replacing action-based support. Delivery is key, and actions do speak louder than words. Listen first, offer your support, then expand through your own experiences. You can say something like, "I don't know exactly what you're going through, but this really helped me when I was at my lowest." The Bible shows us that God made every one of us on purpose with a purpose. It also shows us the reality of despair and how God receives it. If depression is something to hide in shame, why would God have writers unveil it in His Word?
Examples of depression in the Bible may seem different than today because there were no clinical diagnoses', but the outcome was the same: Doubt in identity and direction. Those examples show that God is there for us to purge our heartbreak, even when we lose faith. The Bible also shows that things don't always magically get better when we pray, but we can find renewal. You can share your struggles and how God helped you while validating the unique pain of the person you’re talking to.
While not a replacement for medical or psychological support, habits impact mental health. For someone struggling, it's easier said than done. It may seem like common sense to say, "You'll feel a lot better if you get out of the house," but that will fall on deaf ears for someone without the motivation to get out of bed. Or on the flip side, someone could be depressed even if they have a daily structure and active social life.
Telling someone what they should do is not going to change their life. Walking beside them will. That starts by asking them what they believe they need. Maybe they know they're missing sunshine and fresh air, or maybe they have healthy habits, but their depression causes them to feel disconnected. Next, you can invite them to take small steps with you. That could be as simple as telling them you'd like a friend on your morning walk, or asking them to join a group or volunteer team with you. It can start with something as small as having them over for a relaxing movie night or offering to give them a ride to a support group or therapy appointment. Let them know you don't expect these activities to cure their depression, but you want to share some habits that have been good for you. Reflecting that you genuinely care and enjoy their company is the best way to uplift someone.
It's frustrating to watch as a loved one turns away from hope. When someone close to you struggles with their mental health, you may see ways they are being self-destructive. They could be engaging in unhealthy relationships, falling into addiction, refusing therapy, or pushing you away when you try the steps above. Depression is not a choice; it comes in many forms and situations. At the same time, shouldn't you say something, when a loved one's choices hurt them? What if it seems like they are "letting" depression control their life?
For starters, you can only do so much if someone does not want help. Your first responsibility is to give and show the grace and mercy we all have received ourselves. Advising them on their actions should come after seeking wisdom and offering support. Then, you should speak with God's guidance in mind. Instead of passing judgment, hear their reasons and ask how you can help them pursue alternatives. Remember that the person you're talking to is experiencing life with different struggles than you. Build trust through empathy before you ask someone to listen when you voice truth.
If you’re struggling with depression or know someone who is, God is with you, and so are we. You can talk to somebody here at Sun Valley by calling 480-632-8920 or find support and connection through our Care and Recovery groups.
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.