Depression. It can wield so much power over the hearts and minds of even the strongest Christ followers. Despite there being a growing understanding, as a therapist my heart is turned toward the struggle that the Bride of Christ continues to wrestle with when it comes to this issue of mental illness among its body of believers. For so long, those dealing with mental illness were met with spiritual platitudes and misguided solutions that created guilt and shame–no matter how hard people pray or read scripture they continue to struggle. I am hopeful that the tide is turning, but there remains a real frustration in church communities with how to help and support those suffering with mental illness. Here are some things to keep in mind about one form of mental illness, depression:
1. Understand that depression can be debilitating and life-shattering. Know and refuse to take lightly signs you may see that indicate sufferers might be considering harming themselves as well as how to address these concerns. (Suicide Warning Signs and How to Respond)
2. Understand that the nature of depression is to isolate and withdraw so do not take their isolation and withdrawal personally.
3. Keep trying, keep reaching out respectfully, compassionately.
4. Reach out and support their loved ones through tangible physical needs and emotional and spiritual support because they are the ones that are on the front lines of battling their loved ones’ depression.
5. Know and understand your limitations and that your efforts alone cannot prevent or remedy their struggle.
6. Understand that depression involves a real biological imbalance and can require medical and psychiatric intervention.
7. Continue to offer prayer and spiritual support but be sensitive to the shame and guilt that could pervade sufferers in their spiritual life. Too many times sufferers fear they are not praying enough or trusting in God enough.
8. Be a ray of hope in their darkness– not with ‘sunshine and lollipop’ assurances but as a listener, affirming their worth and God’s love for them.
9. Help them find professional help if it becomes unmanageable for them.
10. Love fearlessly. So many times we can fear messing up, bothering them, or even getting too close and losing them.
Philippians 1:9 “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”
1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Psalm 34:18 “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Serving Those With Mental Illness: Free resource from Focus on the Family’s Thriving Pastor ministry