Last week our planet encountered the loss of two well-known celebrities to apparent suicide. Concurrently, rates of depression and anxiety are climbing in increasing numbers in our world today (https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20180612cdcsuicide.html). These horrible diseases are a part of our broken planet, and though we may not hold all the clues on this side of heaven on how to cure these illnesses, we as Christ-followers can do our part to help our friends and neighbors who are suffering with these silent killers.
Well many of you are probably seeing really heartfelt posts offering assistance and suicide prevention hotline numbers to those who may or may not have depression in its various forms. While these gestures are great, and we would encourage you to do this, as people who are commanded to love others as Jesus loves them, we can take it a few steps further. These kind words are often followed by, “I’m here for you, reach out to me wherever you are.” Here’s an important thing to remember, depression often suppresses a person’s ability to think they are worthy enough for your message. Their ability to reach out goes away and then we hear about the awful result of one of depression’s side effects.
So what are the next steps?
Help carry the burden.
Depression is a heavy load and as a society we put nearly all the weight and pressure of carrying that burden on those afflicted with depression. This crushing weight can often be defeating, so as Christ-followers, instead of taking a passive approach where we wait for someone to tell us they have a heavy burden, let’s be vigilant and on the look out for those who might be carrying the weight of depression.
You can start doing this in your family, friend, and school/work circles; whether you have dealt with depression before or not. But before we get into some really practical steps, here are a few disclaimers for those of you who have never experienced mental illness.
None of the tips in this article will be helpful if you start applying them to people you “know of” but don’t really know. Just like any act of service, you should begin in relationship first. This means that you need to be loving, honest, vulnerable, and authentic with the people around you, if you’re expecting it from anyone else. Always start with love, and love can often be best doled out by being with someone.
Forget everything you think you know, and start with an open mind.
If you have not had depression or anxiety, the realities of these illnesses will be difficult for you to understand. Start your journey by doing some research and learning about these invisible diseases. Keep an open mind and remember that depression is a liar, and not a logical one. It can be way too easy to oversimplify depression by trivializing the feelings and thoughts we are plagued with, or by trying to convince us to think otherwise with logic. Here’s something really logical, if we could will ourselves out of depression, we would. Instead of arguing with our disease (we do it all the time already), just be with us.
Depression can put on a happy face.
People are often surprised to hear about a life lost to suicide because of how happy a person always seemed. Remember that anyone can put on a happy face, even those of us who are struggling through depression. We often look happy in passing, but if you take the time to really be with us, we will probably open up about our struggles. This is where starting in relationship matters most! If you love someone, be with them. True vulnerability will come as we spend time together in person, as you show us that we really matter to you.
Sometimes, we can be difficult to be around, and that’s when we need you most.
Depression and anxiety live and wreak havoc in the mind. When they are running rampant, it can be hard for us to see past our own thoughts and fears. This isn’t because we are selfish or short-sighted people. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about you. It doesn’t mean that we are incapable of seeing a silver lining. It just means that our brains are consumed with a disease. Remember that we are doing our best to fight it, and sometimes that means using every waking breath we have to fight the lies flying around in our brains. We can only think about our own problems because depression is telling us that we aren’t even worth that much thought. Even when we are consumed, you’re presence makes a difference.
We can sometimes have a hard time accepting help for basic things in our lives.
Depression and anxiety do an impressive job of paralyzing people and making simple, and even some enjoyable tasks nearly impossible to complete. And then to make matters worse, the disease lies to us and tells us that we don’t deserve help in completing these tasks, because nothing is “really wrong” with our bodies, we should be able to just get things done. So when you ask to help, you can expect the answer to most often be “No.” Sometimes it helps to just show up ready to help, judgment-free (but make sure we have that relationship thing first).
Remember, you aren’t the Savior or the cure.
We aren’t expecting you to make us feel better all of the time. When you’re around and simply spending time with us, it fights the lie that depression puts in our minds all the time. Your simple presence reminds us that we are worthy.
Don’t over-Spiritualize depression.
The Church has been the source of some of the most demoralizing and trivializing statements towards mental illness. Remember that depression and anxiety are not Spiritual Warfare or punishment for what we have done wrong in our lives; it’s a physical reality of our broken planet. Many of us will not see full healing until we enter Heaven, and it’s not because we’re far from God. Like any Christ-Follower, we need accountability and encouragement in our faith from those in our closest circles. But you should never assume that more prayer, more Bible, or more serving will heal us. Many times, Spiritual lies are the biggest lies depression uses against us. So instead of piling on, pull us up and remind us how much our God loves us, how He is good, patient, and kind. How He’s not the type to hold a grudge or get bummed out by our presence. Remind me that God is consistently there even when I can’t see Him. When you are there next to us saying that, it will feel a little easier to believe.
So whether you’ve experienced mental illness in your lifetime or not, you can take action now to help carry the load of depression and anxiety in the lives of those around you. Start by simply asking and then offering the people you are in relationship with now, “Hey, have you ever experienced depression? I want to be more diligent about being with the people I love who have or may experience it in the future.”
You may get some resistance, but you’re more likely to get some very honest answers. As you learn of those in your life who have experienced these illnesses, make it a priority to be in consistent, intentional relationship with them. Accept the responsibility of reaching out and order the chaos of your life and schedule around loving them well. Pray for them daily, and follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit to reach out even when it’s unplanned. Remember that you’re not called to be the healer, savior, or anything else; you’re simply called to love. Your consistent love from the heart of Jesus in you will remind us that we matter, to you and to God. So be with us, love us, and let that be enough.
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” - John 13:34-35 (MSG)
We are looking to start depression and anxiety support groups here at Severn Run. If you are interested in facilitating one of these groups, please let us know .
If you are dealing with depression and feel suicidal, please use the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Or you can text the word “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 for immediate crisis counseling.