By Bev and Phil Haas
My friend seems to be having a difficult time. She’s confided she’d just like to get in the car and drive away; other times I’ve checked on her because she’s stayed home from work. She’s started refusing to get out of bed, losing weight, and not really taking care of herself. She’s had much on her plate—the death of her dad and grandmother and problems with her daughter. I’m concerned. What can I do to help?
You are wise to not ignore the feelings your friend is having. Depression is a very real illness. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living. More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness and you can’t simply ‘snap out’ of it. Depression may require long-term treatment.”
Without treatment through medication or counseling, clinical depression doesn’t usually get better. Bottom line—encourage your friend to call her doctor. Only medical personnel are trained to evaluate the degree of depression and appropriate treatment.
Your friend is not alone with these feelings. About 1 out of 10 adults from all walks of life suffer from some form of depression.
In the Bible we read of Joseph, Job, David, and even Jesus having times of great sadness and being overwhelmed. Depression is not about having a lapse in faith; the overwhelming feelings do not mean there is a character defect, a spiritual disorder, or an emotional dysfunction. Oftentimes depression can relate to emotions that have been ignored or pushed away.
We are assuming that you have a close relationship with your friend. If so, you have earned the right to talk openly. Tell her what you are seeing and express your heartfelt concern. Several years ago I (Bev) struggled through some depression. I said I was fine, and it wasn’t until my friend Pam called me out by saying, “No, you’re not fine” that I faced what was happening.
When sadness and depression start to surround me, I find that I need to do things I don’t feel like doing. Some people take offense at this, but when my mind decides something, my heart will follow. So take your friend and do something. Yes, you might have to actually “take” her because she may not want to go. Start with something little. It’s trial and error. What will your friend latch onto? reading? journaling? walking?
Encourage your friend to stay close to God by reading his Word, praying, and journaling. Encourage her to pour out her heart to God. She will be exercising her faith in God by doing what she doesn’t feel like doing.
Keep in mind that depression is not a sin; it’s a disease. Your friend’s faith in God is important and can help ease depression. Offer to pray with her and examine the transparency of those in the Bible who cried out to God, “Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed? Why are you so upset inside? Hope in God! Because I will again give him thanks, my saving presence and my God” (Psalm 42:11, Common English Bible).
Help your friend reach out and find a Christian counselor. Although you are a faithful friend, you are not a professional counselor who can help her address underlying causes of the depression and develop a plan of action. Though it doesn’t happen in every situation, medication may provide needed physical help for people struggling with depression.
If your friend resists medication (and many Christians do), please be a source of support to her and urge her to follow her doctor’s plan. Does it mean you have less trust and faith in God if you take your blood pressure medicine or insulin? What about vaccinating your children (or yourself) against potential deadly diseases? Not at all! There are prescribed medications I (Bev) take on a daily basis to retain and increase my health. I believe God has provided me with wise counsel through my doctors, and I follow their course of prescribed treatment. To deny medical or psychiatric treatment for depression is really no different than denying treatment for other illnesses. The difference between the two is that the former is invisible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not very real.
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and four grandsons. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.