Monday, January 16, 2012

How can I help someone who struggles with depression?

Fighting hopelessness as we approach the “most depressing day of the year.”

At last week’s question box night at TFC, we received this question:

How do you help someone, who struggles with depression and doesn’t want to live anymore, realize God’s purpose for their life?

Finding God’s purpose for your life is always a tricky subject; how can I know for sure what God’s plan is for me? How do I know what the right decisions are? There are a number of methods that can help, including prayer, Bible study, and guidance from a trusted Christian mentor; and often, there is no definitive answer.  This is a huge question that deserves its own discussion another time. Maybe, for this case, we don’t need to help them find what, exactly that purpose is; just to affirm that there is  a purpose.

How can I tell if someone is depressed?

Everyone has a hard day or week every now and then. Depression goes way beyond that; it’s this sense of hopelessness, feeling trapped with no chance of escape. Depressed people feel like they have no purpose, and struggle with finding motivation to accomplish even the most basic tasks.

Some warning signs to look for:

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities.
  • Spending an excessive about of time on the internet, video games, or watching TV.
  • Major changes in sleeping or eating patterns (i.e., a lot more or a lot less than usual)
  • A drop in school grades.
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure.
  • Not enjoying activities they used to like.
  • Always feeling “bored” or low-energy.


What can I do to help?

Listen. One of the most important things you can do it just be there. Do your best to understand how they are feeling, and let them know that you hear them.

Read the Bible. It can be uplifting to read passages like Jer 29:11 or Ps 42:5 that promise God’s joy and his purpose for your life. However, be careful that you don’t use these verses to say “See, you shouldn’t be feeling this way…” The last thing you want is to make them feel guilty for being depressed!

It can be just as helpful to read passages of people who had it hard; it tells them that they aren’t alone, that others have gone through the same thing and survived it, and God is also here now to help them through it. Psalms 38 and 86 are great places to start, and the Book of Job is also wonderful.

Pray. Ask God for relief from this burden, or that He would give the strength to withstand it; this is a response we see many examples of in Scripture (Lk 22:42, 2 Cor 12:9, 1 Cor 10:13, Ps 38:1-18).

Confession can also free them from the weight of guilt. Guilt is a common cause of depression, but the Good News of Jesus is that we can turn from sin and live free from guilt (Heb 10:22). If they have sin they want to confess to you, let them bring it up; never force it out of them. Then listen, pray with them, and then affirm to them that they have been set free, indeed!

Encourage. Build them up by reminding them of what they are good at, things they’ve succeeded in, and the people that love them. You can also remind them that even though you know things are tough right now, this too, shall pass. Things will get better!

Do something! Get them out of the house; try a new hobby; anything to break them out of the “world of me”. Physical activity is proven to help fight depression; so is taking interest in others, such as charity work, or tutoring.


A Final Note

Get professional help if you need it. If the suggestions above don’t help, they may be clinically depressed, in which case they may actually have a chemical imbalance in the brain.

If you are worried they might take their own life – especially if they have talked about how they would do it – don’t keep it to yourself. Even if they make you promise to keep it secret, it doesn’t matter; they aren’t thinking straight, and it’s more important to get them the help they need. Talk to someone you trust, or contact the National Lifeline.


What are some other ways you can beat the winter blues?