By Peggy Park
There’s no quick fix for depression. My single sister, June, lived with my husband and me for four months during a life-threatening depression brought on by vocational and personal circumstances. During that time we discovered several ways to provide hope and help to my hurting sister—and to others who struggle with depression.
I would have liked for prayer alone to “fix” her, but that was not the case. A lot of prayer went up for June, and God led us to several professionals who helped us through this difficult time.
Prayer is vital for caregivers and for those who suffer. Many who are depressed have a distorted view of God and are turned off by “God talk.” They may have a hard time receiving God’s love due to past life experiences or misconceptions. When praying for those who struggle with depression, keep your prayers brief and to the point. Talk to God about them more than you talk to them about God.
June found it difficult to attend church services. Some antidepressant mediations cause sounds to be magnified. We had to leave the service several times because she could not tolerate the volume of music.
June was open to having people visit who had recovered from depression. She also agreed to private conversations with people her age, sitting on our back porch on Sunday afternoons around refreshments.
Those who visited were spiritually mature young people who had life experiences I thought June would find interesting or could relate to. I left them alone after introductions and a brief conversation so they could get to know each other.
My sister asked for spiritual help. She said, “I just need to go to Bible college and start all over.” A lady I hardly knew came highly recommended by my prayer group leader. She came once a week and kept a notebook of foundational Bible verses and helps to review with my sister. I am grateful to this lady for the diligence and faithfulness she demonstrated. She and June remain friends despite the considerable geographical distance between them.
Soft music playing in the home can be soothing, whether it’s praise music, classical music, or something else. Music can give us something to focus on besides our emotional pain. Remember to speak softly and sparingly. Sometimes it’s wise to refrain from small talk. Keep the environment as quiet and peaceful as possible. Sit quietly with the sufferer and refrain from the temptation to fill every moment of silence with words.
Serve familiar and comforting foods. This is not the time to try to change someone’s eating preferences. Make water and other liquids readily available at mealtimes, during the day, and at nighttime.
Invite the sufferer out to eat with friends who will provide easy conversation and a controlled spirit of fun. Invite sensitive friends for short visits to break up the long days and to add variety and distractions.
Be generous with hugs and displays of affection while respecting the need for emotional space. Don’t make the person feel crowded. Be sensitive and back off if you sense this is happening.
Listening and Talking
People who suffer from depression often find it difficult to hear and implement logical advice. Listening to them is much more helpful than telling them what to do. Repeating what they have said can sometimes help clarify their thinking. Reinforce positive words and thoughts.
After listening attentively to negative thoughts, try to divert the sufferer so he does not spiral downward in endless negative talk, going over the same thing again and again.
Be sensitive to how much spiritual talk is welcome. Reading aloud a Psalm or playing praise music may provide comfort.
Avoid hurtful questions like, “Why don’t you just snap out of it?” Watch carefully for any talk that would heap guilt on the sufferer. People who face depression don’t welcome easy fixes. They often think their situation is more severe than most.
Encourage daily hygiene, including getting ready for the day, even if you know the sufferer will be back in bed shortly. Years ago a depressed friend asked me to pick up a certain kind of skin lotion at the store. Unfortunately I did not understand much about depression and I did not go. I thought it was a ridiculous request. Today I would honor such a request, knowing that whatever the person perceives as giving comfort is worth pursuing.
Encouraging a daily walk in the fresh air is therapeutic, but this can be difficult to suggest without seeming to nag. One of my friends called several times and invited my sister to take walks with her in a beautiful park. Another friend invited June to her home to watch uplifting, funny movies. This gave June something to do, and it gave me a welcome break.
Another friend who has suffered from depression told me she now sends cartoons to others in depression. She also suggested offering to work simple jigsaw puzzles with the depressed person and inviting her to lunch while not taking offense if she declines.
God provides equipped and experienced Christians to help walk us through difficult times. We made an appointment with a psychiatrist, as June had to have prescriptions for antidepressant medications. We also sought out a Christian counselor whom we saw once a week. June had requested spiritual help and this was better received coming from someone other than me.
One of the most effective things we did was to seek out a person who helped June recognize the evil spiritual forces that had used her life circumstances to ignite this deep depression and bring it to the surface. We saw a visible difference in her as a result. Her countenance became bright.
It takes time for emotional wounds to heal, just as it takes time for physical wounds to heal. Caregivers alone cannot fix the problem, but we can act as a support just as a tree needs bracing until its roots strengthen and it can stand on its own.
I was deeply concerned about June when she decided to return to her home in another state. I prayed and tried my best to release the worry I felt, but often she would call me crying. I felt helpless hearing her distress. She had not been able to get the job she was expecting.
Finally I chose to fast for a period of time, using a notebook to record my prayers. I prayed and wrote out biblical promises. At the end of my fast I held the notebook up and asked the Lord to hear all the prayers that had been offered up on June’s behalf.
Then I got a helium balloon, wrapped its string around a brick, and held the brick out at arms’ length until it was so heavy I had to drop it. The brick and balloon represented my concerns for June. As I released the balloon into the sky I heard in my spirit, “You have released her to me.” I have never again felt such a sense of freedom. When Satan enticed me to pick up the worry again, I had a powerful visual to remind me that I had released June to God.
Today June has a wonderful husband and two precious children. She is fulfilled, happy, and walking with the Lord.
“The winter is past . . . . Flowers appear . . . the season of singing has come” (Song of Solomon 2:11, 12).
Peggy Park is a freelance writer in Lexington, Kentucky.
Resources for Overcoming Depression
Dealing with Depression: Trusting God Through the Dark Times
by Sarah Collins
(Christian Focus Publications, 2011)
Scared Silly: Taking on Your Fears, Worries, and What-ifs
by Marcy Bryan
(Standard Publishing, 2007)
Unmasking Male Depression
by Dr. Archibald D. Hart
(Thomas Nelson, 2001)
by Neil T. Anderson and Joanne Anderson
(Gospel Light, 2004)
Understanding Depression and Finding Hope
by Gary Kinnaman and Richard Jacobs
Get Out of That Pit: Straight Talk About God’s Deliverance
by Beth Moore
(Thomas Nelson, 2009)
Healing for Damaged Emotions
by David Seamands
(David C. Cook, 1991)
When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God—and Joy
by John Piper
Silver Linings: Breaking Through the Clouds of Depression
by Florence Littauer
(New Hope Publishers, 2006)
Women Counseling Women
by Elyse Fitzpatrick
(Harvest House Publishers, 2010)