Person 1: "If I'm being honest, I'm struggling with some stuff and feel very alone."
Person 2: "I'll pray for you."
Person 1: "I feel like there isn't anyone I can really talk to about how I'm feeling."
Person 2: "You're just in a funk. Spend more time with God in prayer and bible study."
This is how some Christians respond to what people trained in counseling or therapy would say are "red flags". Depression frightens us because we aren't sure how to handle it, or we believe some false things about it. We believe that the person can just muscle through it and force themselves to trust that good things are coming. We have been told that it's a spiritual battle so it must be fought with prayer, bible reading, and church attendance. The depressed person simply needs to believe harder. We think that it is a passing mood, one driven by hormones or temporary circumstances. It has been preached to us that we are commanded to have joy, to be content in all things, so we assume if someone isn't joyful or content, then they are not being obedient and are sinning.
Christians who are depressed have the added burden of shame, perpetuated by the false assumptions I just laid out. Depression is a disease, NOT a failure of the will and people don't just "get over it". It is not simply a spiritual problem requiring just a spiritual solution; more faith won't solve this problem.
Does prayer help? Absolutely. God hears and answers our prayers. But in the meantime some other things should be taking place.
Checking in: A phone call, a text or email. Let them know they aren't alone. Remember that family members are also affected and will need support as well.
Invitation: Make an invitation to get together and don't take no for an answer. People who are depressed tend to isolate themselves, withdrawing from contact.
Inform: let them know you are listening. Ask questions and really hear the answers. Reassure them that they are loved and wanted.
Report: If you have real concerns that someone could be considering self-harm or is having suicidal ideations, report it. Talk to a pastor, a deacon, or someone you trust who has been trained in how to deal with such things.
According to statistics, people suffering from depression are four times more likely to seek help from a pastor before going to a professionally trained counselor. Unfortunately, just 25% of all clergy are adequately trained for handling mental health issues. Adequately trained is defined as having and maintaining education in mental health counseling beyond an introductory course in post secondary degrees.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to some statistics 25% of all Americans have a mental illness. Mental illness encompasses everything from bipolar disorder to depression and PTSD. If people suffering from cancer, can receive emotional support from their churches, then those suffering from depression should too. It is possible, if we view depression accurately though the lens of love rather than a sin or lack of faith issue.
They can include:
- Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
- Pessimism and hopelessness
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in things once pleasurable
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won't go away
- Digestive problems that don't get better, even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts