By Kim Wright
Depression has such a stigma attached to it, especially within the body of the church. I am not a counselor or psychologist. What I am is one who has dealt with depression from two points of view—the depressed and the parent of one struggling. I have gone to counseling and been treated for depression. To this day, I have to watch for it to rear its ugly head and recognize when I’ve been in the rut for too long.
As a parent, I’ve watched a child go through a year and a half of being clinically depressed and, yes, even suicidal. It has been the most emotionally draining time of my almost 50 years. Seeing your child live in a pit of darkness that you cannot pull her from is the most helpless feeling in the world. We were in weekly therapy and trying different medications until we found one that seemed to work for her. It was a painful, lonely time for me and for my family.
Where was my church family during all of this? Many people at church simply didn’t know what to say or said the absolute wrong thing. Instead of bringing light to a dark place, their words made me feel inadequate as a parent, as a person, and as a Christian.
What NOT to Say
Here are just a few of the things we were told or that were suggested we do to turn things around and help with the depression. They are also things I suggest not saying to someone who is struggling with depression or is dealing with someone who is depressed:
We just “needed more faith” or if we had more “joy of the Lord” things would get better. Questions like: “Aren’t you guys Christians?” (As if Christians do not struggle with depression?) Or, “Have you stopped studying the Bible? Are you believing Jesus is enough? What does your daughter have to be depressed about?” I was told that maybe if I served more or sang more praise songs to “chase those blues away,” I’d feel better. Seriously? Seriously.
Such stigma. Such misinformation. My knees were worn from prayer. My voice hoarse from pleading. I couldn’t lean in more if I tried.
We wouldn’t ask these questions of the person who has to see a cardiologist because his arteries are all clogged. We don’t say to them, “Where’s your faith? Sing louder, maybe that reverb will root out those clogged-up arteries!” No. We encourage them to get the help they need. To see the expert who needs to be seen. To do the things that will help them get better.
What about the person who shatters a bone? Do you think that serving on one more committee will make the break heal? Or reading one more chapter in Ezekiel because, after all, wasn’t that where some dry bones danced? Sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it?
Then why do people think one’s faith is weak when a person struggles with depression? Why is there this stigma?
Do I believe God could instantly heal any of the above scenarios? Yes, I do. He can do anything. He also gave us great and gifted doctors to help us when instant healing doesn’t happen.
Here’s another one: “What do you have to be depressed about?” Oh, sweet friends. This is one my daughter heard often and caused her to deny being depressed for far too long. You see, she had it all—a great family who went to and served at church, great grades, and beautiful looks. The thing we learned? There is a tendency to hide the pain one is going through because in their mind there is no reason for it. It doesn’t make sense, so instead of talking about it, you go it alone, pushing down the darkness until you can push no more.
Depression is not a respecter of persons. It does not look at your life and see a great career, family, wealth, and success and stay away. It doesn’t care that you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian. It doesn’t care if you live in the trailer park or in a multimillion dollar home. It doesn’t see you being a good Jesus follower and go the other direction.
We live in a fallen and broken world. A world that is overwhelming. And that brokenness sometimes seeps into the cracks of a broken and hurting soul.
One last one thing said to us: “It’s a choice.” Let me tell you, nobody chooses to be depressed. Period. When our pediatrician gave us the list of therapists to call, my daughter burst into tears and cried, “I don’t want to be depressed.”
In the darkness, your mind thinks a thousand thoughts without the ability to put one full thought together. There is no logic, no rationale. To think that a person chooses to be depressed is so far from the truth.
What Can We Do?
Church, what can we do?
• Don’t alienate a person in their brokenness.
• Don’t judge—it’s the last thing they need.
• Don’t shame—there is no shame in Christ.
• Do encourage them to seek help because it’s OK to ask for and need help.
• Do pray for them and let them know they are being prayed for.
• Do walk beside them during their journey in the darkness.
• Do be a safe place to be able to walk in broken and not ashamed.
During our most difficult days it was wonderful to know that I had a handful of friends whom I could call and ask for prayer. I could call and say what I needed to say without them being shocked because sometimes it wasn’t pretty. I could call and they would hold the candle of hope when the darkness seemed to take the oxygen straight out of the air and extinguish any light.
To the person who struggles with depression, let me say:
• You are not alone, and your faith is not weak. There are many of us who love the Lord with all our being and still struggle with the shadows. I can’t explain all the why’s, but I can walk along beside you and let you know that it’s OK to admit you’re not OK.
• There is no shame in asking for and needing help. Are you saying Jesus isn’t enough? Not at all! Just recognize that his help may come through some great counseling and medication, and that’s OK! His help may also come from some incredible sisters and brothers in Christ standing in the gap and holding the candle to light the path while you’re in the dark. His help may come when you admit you need help.
• It’s OK to ask for and need help. It doesn’t make you weak. It takes courage and strength to admit you need help.
• It’s OK to ask for and need help. Even when you look like you’ve got it all together on the outside but you’re falling apart on the inside. It takes guts to admit it.
• It’s OK to ask for and need help. It doesn’t disappoint God for us to admit we can’t do it on our own. He wants us to call on him. He is the strength in our frail and tender places.
It’s OK to ask for and need help.
Kim Wright is a freelance writer from Morrow, Ohio, who’s raised a few kids and a handful of chickens (kimwrightwrites.com).