Depression is a strange and often misunderstood beast. It affects people in different ways and causes varying degrees emotional and mental turmoil. Those who struggle with it can sometimes find it challenging to describe exactly what they’re experiencing to people around them. This can sometimes cause friends of people with depression to have a hard time understanding how to help. Here are 5 ways that you can help a friend struggling with depression:
1. Admit that you don’t understand and listen to them
When I’ve been in a serious state of depression, my close friends want to lift me up and support me, but will sometimes have no idea what I really need in those times. They have sat down and said, “I really don’t understand what you’re going through. I’ve never experienced what you’re experiencing. Can you explain to me what you’re feeling?”
Not only does this tell someone who is depressed, “Hey, I really care about you enough to admit my ignorance,” it also tells them “I care enough to listen before speaking.”
The hard thing with depression is that even advice intended to uplift can hurt someone in a depressed state more than help. It’s not that those of us with depression have the mindset of a budding teenager and think that “no one understands us" — it's just that each one of us just deals with depression differently! By not assuming that you know exactly what’s going on or that you have the perfect words for them, you actually show them deeper love. Love seeks understanding.
2. Remind them that it’s not their fault
It’s easy for someone enduring depression to think to themselves “Maybe I just haven’t been trusting God enough, or maybe I’m too selfish, or maybe I just need to pray more.” Though they really might need to fall on their knees in prayer and look up to the Savior King who cares for them, they also really need you to tell them that it isn’t their fault.
Depression isn’t always a cause of sinfulness or lack of belief; it’s a paralyzing condition that can be managed. It cannot, however, be dealt with like a quick fix problem. It’s more like a cancer than a cold. Because of the infesting nature of depression, it is incredibly helpful for you to join your friend in combatting the guilt-ridden lies of depression.
3. Speak words of life, not condemnation
People with depression need to hear the Word of God, but it can sometimes be received as some sort of “holier than thou” chastisement. Those of us in depressive states need to be reminded that we know what we know is true. We need to be reminded “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and that “he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Think carefully about the Scripture you share with your friends and ask yourself the question “would this make them feel condemned or loved?”
4. Be with them
Sometimes depression can keep people from being able to do normal every-day things like buy groceries, eat meals, or socialize with people. One of the most helpful and practical things you can do is ask what your friend needs to get done and then join them in doing that task. Go clean out your cars together, make dinner together, or just sit in the same room together.
It’s easy to isolate yourself when you’re feeling depressed and think to yourself that you are unloved and no one cares for you. By simply being around them, you’re helping fight against that lie and you’re helping meet a deep need that they have.
5. Pray for them
This may seem like a no-brainer, but those experiencing depression covet it. Again, it communicates that you care for the person, and it also means you are linking arms with them as the church to fight against the monster of depression. When you seek to understand where they are coming from, you will also be equipped to pray for them specifically and intimately.
Go before the Father and fight for your friend, and then tell them that you are doing this so that they may be strengthened in the knowledge that they are not alone.