When a loved one is struggling with dark thoughts, you want to say the right words. When they suffer and withdraw, you want to do whatever you can to keep them close and to care for them.
But, sadly, depression is difficult to overcome, whether you are a person of faith or not. It’s a common condition that works hard to keep your loved one feeling isolated and powerless. Regardless of how much they know otherwise.
But don’t give up. We were created to belong to each other. Hold on to Psalm 34:1-8 for yourself and for them:
“I will glory in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
Your faith can sustain and strengthen you. You just need a practical plan to better support your ability to help your loved one heal.
Consider these seven practical steps:
1. Accept and Believe
Depression is not an indictment of your loved one’s faith. Or an indicator of your failure as a parent, sibling, child, friend, etc. There is no shame or blame in this condition.
Try to see this difficulty as an opportunity to accept the depression for what it is and move forward in faith. Believe and trust that your role is to remind your loved one (by word and example) that “blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” and to continually seek Him and be saved.
2. Increase Your Awareness & Information
To be the best support to your loved one, it is crucial that you acquire as much knowledge and understanding of depression as possible.
Research depression and its causes and symptoms for reliable information. Learn the impact of the condition on self-image, relationships, and spirituality. Gather information about how people manage depression through daily strategies, therapy, and medications.
3. Speak Love
Talk to your loved one with hope and compassion often. Don’t “leave them alone” or react to their silence with silence or anger. Depression is exhausting and painful. Your loved one may not have the energy to respond to you the way you hope. That’s okay.
Clearly communicate to them that you understand how serious depression is. Share with them that your goal is to pray with them, speak life and love to them, as well as encourage them to connect… one conversation at a time.
In addition, to ensure that your loved one feels loved and accepted, communicate that they are not being blamed, shamed, or criticized. As a guideline, try to stay away from insensitive commentary or advice like the following:
- Just think positive thoughts!
- Everyone gets depressed sometimes.
- What’s the matter with you?
- You’ll be okay.
- Stop bringing everyone down!
- Snap out of it!
- Why aren’t you over this yet?
4. Love Unconditionally, Reliably, and Patiently
Depression recovery may not be a quick or linear process. Welcome the opportunity to be a source of support. Your depressed friend or family member is fighting through each day. Any activity may seem like too much.
Stick with your loved one anyway—even when it seems they want you to go away.
- Keep pursuing contact gently. Again, depression prefers isolation. Don’t stop calling, texting, and reaching out. Offer to drive to counseling sessions. Volunteer to pick up medication. Coordinate help with the yard work or meals. Whether your loved one allows you to help or not, you are communicating that you can be counted on.
- Listen more; preach less. Even if your loved one is a believer, a barrage of scripture may backfire. Pick your moments and let them share honestly without correction from you. Really hear what‘s happening in their heart and mind. Be validating, affirming, and kind.
5. Advocate Strong Self-Care—Theirs & Your Own
Positive reinforcement is an important part of good mental health. Your ability to help your loved one and sustain your own mental stamina requires quality self-care for you both.
- Encourage health and clean living in conversation or by example.
- Make a practice of sharing healthier meals or dropping off healthy groceries.
- Avoid drinking or smoking together or providing means for such.
- Invite them for light exercise. A regular walk, yoga class, or bike ride might promote a beneficial shot of mood-boosting endorphins.
- Set appropriate boundaries. Don’t allow their depression to overwhelm your life.
- Plan time with healthier friends. Employ your own emotional support system routinely.
- “Cast your cares” often. Your job is simply to help. Leave the healing to God.
6. Encourage Professional Help
Share what you’ve learned about resources and treatment options. Acknowledge their fears and concerns, but do offer to help find local therapists and support groups. Make accessing such resources as easy as possible until a routine is established.
7. Act Immediately If Depression Becomes Dangerous
Most of all, pay close attention to any sign of imminent danger. Any talk or evidence of self-harm, risky use of weapons or medication, or suicidal expression is a call for intervention.
Reach out to your loved one’s doctor or therapist right away. Seek hospitalization for their own safety if you need to. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can provide immediate guidance as well.
Finally, keep in mind that because your loved one is suffering they may not be able to worship with you or thank you, or even thank God. That’s okay. Your grace and perseverance and God’s patience and timing are enough.
Remember too, it’s okay if you need help with the stress and to seek help to cope. I would appreciate the opportunity to help you move forward with effective tools and interventions. For more information about depression, click here.
About the Author:
Julia Nelson, LPCA, LMFTA is a psychotherapist and owns a private practice in Henderson County, (Flat Rock) NC and Rutherford County, (Forest City) NC. In general, she specializes in couples counseling, anxiety and depression counseling, premarital counseling, and parenting classes. She is also a Certified Clinical Military Counselor. To find out more about Julia click here: Nelson Christian Counseling.
Want tools for your life and relationship? Get my latest blog post by liking my Facebook page here.