A Trip to the Doctor
Family members (or a close friend) should encourage or even take someone suffering from depression to visit the family doctor. In a situation like this, a doctor can be of great help. (I will address this issue in more detail in a later post.)
Seek Professional Help
Encourage a family member/friend suffering from depression to seek professional help from a suitable Christian counsellor who understands depression, or from a professional health care worker (preferably a Christian). This will help the sufferer to identify and deal with often-private issues that are causing the depression. (I will address this issue in more detail in another blog.)
Our Role – Patience, Not Pressure
Someone who has not experienced depression cannot possibly understand what a sufferer is going through. Although it is tempting to pressure them to “Snap out of it,” or “Pull yourself together!” this is the wrong course of action.
When my wife succumbed to depression as a result of postnatal depression and a serious problem in our church, she suddenly announced one day; “I don’t want to go to church any more.”
There were a number of ways I could have responded: I could have said, “The Bible says believers must not forsake our assembling together with other believers!” or perhaps, “That’s our church, our home, we must stick it out!” But her request reminded me of a similar request I had made of my church back in 1989 when depression had overwhelmed me. I was confused and bewildered and my behaviour completely erratic. Having just returned from an extremely hectic and sleepless ten-day missionary orientation trip to Thailand, (where my weight had fallen to 55kg), I asked if I could take time off to work out what was wrong with me. Sadly, I was told to get my act together and fulfil my responsibilities or a drastic course of action would be initiated. This simply sent me spiralling into shock as well.
My wife’s request and condition also reminded me of a married couple who had been down this very road. When the wife had become depressed due to a family tragedy, her husband responded with the most amazing depth of understanding and Christ-like patience. He left church with her and was just there for her. He never put her under any pressure but waited patiently for her to recover. And sure enough, she did recover, and they returned to the church.
Bearing these things in mind, my response to my wife’s statement was to call the senior minister and explain our situation. He was very understanding, and sent us on our way with his blessing, telling us not to be concerned about dropping suddenly out of the Sunday School and music teams. For the next two years, I was simply there for my wife. I encouraged her to get counselling, and took her to see a doctor, but I made no demands on her. We attended another church during that time, but did nothing more than attend the services. After about two years, my wife recovered and returned to her normal self, strengthened by her ordeal. At that time we went back to our church (the serious problem had gone) and are still busily serving the Lord there today.
If someone suffering from depression feels trapped by their circumstances, and wants to leave their church, we should not pressure them to stay. A couple of months after I returned from Thailand, I ended up leaving that church. The leadership thought I was the target of a concentrated spiritual attack (which was certainly true a degree) and pressured me to return. They meant well, and genuinely cared for me, but this pressure only made me worse, as you can see from what I wrote in my diary at that time.
My previous place of fellowship puts me under pressure.
Come back to us! You need the ministry we can give you.
But they don’t really understand, they can’t see the pain.
How do I explain to them how I feel?
The last few nights I cried, a deep crying that hurt more than it healed.
The best way that we can support a loved one suffering from depression is to simply be there for them and spend time with them, even if merely watching TV or together or engaging in a mutual hobby or chore such as gardening or housework. Be someone they are content to be with, someone that they can talk to without worrying that we will respond judgementally.
I am always encouraged by the way Jesus views our frailty – He knows we are weak, and He treats us with gentleness. Isaiah 42:3 ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.’
Sherry Castelluccio, who suffered from severe post-partum depression after the birth of her daughter, offered this advice when I asked her if there been any particular person who supported her greatly through depression.
My husband has been my biggest advocate. When I had the post-partum depression he got his feet wet and kind of had no idea what to do with me. He really believed that I just needed to pray and allow God to heal me. Little did he know, LOL. Fast-forward six years. He’s very understanding of what I’m going through and he supports me in the decisions I make. In every way he’s there for me, regardless of whether he “gets it” or not. He’s learned that most of the time I don’t want him to fix anything. I just need him to listen and he’s perfectly fine with that.
We must be careful not to badger them to change back to what they used to be like, nor try to push them to recover. Recovery, or at least, learning to cope with depression, will come with time, but we must give them that time. If there are things that they cannot face, we should not force them to face them, but allow time to bring healing. This may mean that we have to take over some of their household chores for awhile, be willing to cancel social engagements for a time, perhaps even church.
Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
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