I have no doubt that most Christians want to know what they can do to help someone dealing with depression. The problem is that many don’t know how, so they give a few well meaning suggestions and a couple Bible verses in the hopes that'll break through a barrier they cannot understand.
Granted, Scripture is not a bad thing. In fact, it is an important part of the healing process. But without knowing how to sit with someone in their pain first and actively pay attention to what they need in the moment, the person will not be able to hear the truth inside those words. To them it comes across as a quick band-aid solution that doesn't address the root of the pain.
This becomes a lose-lose situation where the person trying to help doesn't even realize the pain they've caused and the person in need of support is left feeling even more hurt and alone. And thus begins a further downward spiral.
There are two huge reasons why it can be difficult to know how to help someone with depression.
1. Most living with depression become expert actors and actresses, presenting themselves like they are fine, to avoid placing their pain on those around them.
2. They are usually terrible at expressing what they need from others because they are afraid they will be a burden.
Basically, they can be very hard to read.
But I think people can make a world of difference if they can learn to read between the lines. Realizing that “I’m fine” is often a cover up for “I feel so alone”, “I have more pain than I can comprehend”, or “I don’t want to live anymore”, is a start.
So what can you do?
Here’s 7 effective ways to love someone with depression:
I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Let the person tell you about their pain and fight the urge to offer suggestions. Try to place yourself in their shoes with no outside judgements. But also realize that you will never understand what they are processing if you have never experienced that kind of deep pain before. So never tell them “I know how you feel,” because you don’t and it will only shut them down and hurt your chance to see the real person.
2. Recognize that their vulnerability is a gift
No matter what your relationship is to that person, their willingness to share something so deeply personal is a huge gift and blessing. Nobody has a right to another person's story or feelings and they are placing a huge amount of trust in you by letting you share in their heartache. So treat it like a precious jewel, to be handled delicately and cherished.
3. Tell them you know life sucks right now
More than anything, people living with depression need validation that their emotions are real and not something to be ashamed about. They need to know that they have every right to be feeling the way they are feeling, no matter how seemingly large or small the circumstances are that have led to those emotions. Everybody’s perception of an event or experience can result in a vastly different response.
4. Ask them how they are doing on a scale of 1 to 10.
This makes it a lot harder for someone to just brush off your question with a quick, “Oh I’m good, thanks. And you?” If you ask them to actually rate how they are feeling, you are much more likely to get an accurate answer of how their day is really going.
5. Ask them to describe the emotion they are feeling right then?
Are they feeling hurt? Angry? Depressed? Lonely? Agitated? Annoyed? Sometimes they won’t be able to define what they are feeling. They may have pushed down and ignored their emotions for so long that they’ve lost touch with that side of them. If so, try showing them a list to help them identify a word. (Google emotion color wheel for some good ones) Even so, some will say they don’t feel anything or they feel numb. And that is okay. Try asking them about what they have going on in their life that may have overwhelmed their emotional system.
6. Ask if they would like prayer
I stress the word "ask" because depending on where that person is in their journey, your prayer could actually make them angry or make them feel like you’re just trying to fix everything. Now this is probably not your intention, and let me clarify the fact that prayer is a good thing and God’s word is always true BUT there are times when you can push someone further away if you simply offer a Bible verse or prayer without having sat with the person and simply listened first. Ideally this should come after points 1 and 3.
7. Invite them to do things with you
Most of all, love them like Jesus. For love is patient, and doesn't keep a record of all the bad things anyone has done. Trust them, hold out hope for them when they can't see it themselves and no matter what, never ever give up on them (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).