I must confess something to you. It may come as a shock in light of my 172 posts over the past 14 months of blogging. My husband would deny it, but it’s the truth: Sometimes I am at a loss for words.
I’ll grant you, it’s not often, but I came across a list on line a year that left me speechless for some time. It was a compilation of actual quotes from loved ones and well meaning folks toward their depressed friend or family member. One quote literally referred to finding a prostitute as a solution! I just sat there thinking….
So after a year of not having anything to say, I now feel compelled to speak on behalf of thousands of wonderful people who battle depression. I see them in my office and I watch them try so hard to figure out why, oh why can’t they just feel/be/get better!? Often one of the greatest sources of discouragement comes from church friends and family members who believe it’s “wrong” to be depressed or that their loved one needs to “get over it.” And can I just say, I have come to assume that usually people do the wrong thing for the right reason. So, my guess is many of these comments were well intended, but poorly expressed. Some reflect a general lack of understanding about depression. Some, a few, are simply hateful.
I am not going to attempt to explain all that factors into depression, as that would be another blog for another day. But I do want to share five actual statements off the list I read that are not helpful, and offer some alternatives.
1. “You’d be fine if you had more faith” & “Watch the Passion of the Christ- that should fix you” The implication in both of these is struggling with depression is an indication of spiritual failure. The truth is depression can be (and often is) caused by physical factors, over which the individual has no control. Just as it is not a sin or failure to have a pancreas that stops producing insulin culminating in diabetes, it is not a failure to have your brain stop producing serotonin, nor-epinephrine or dopemine. Your brain is an organ like any other in your body and in this broken world often our bodies do not work as they were ideally designed. Additionally, we live through trauma and dysfunction in this world that can also cause the brain to quit functioning properly. Neither of these scenarios are necessarily in the control of the depressed person.
Helpful alternative: How can I pray for you? or I am praying for you.
2. “Come on, snap out of it!” or “Just go shopping to treat yourself” The implication is there is a fast and simple fix the person is just not utilizing. The truth is for most depressed people it will take time and a combination of medical, emotional and spiritual interventions to fully recover or manage their depression. We’d all like there to be a simple solution, but often that desire comes from a lack of willingness to suffer with someone for the long haul.
Helpful alternative: How can I be a support to you?
3. “I’m disappointed to hear that” or “For God’s sake, there was no such thing as depression in my day” The implication is the depressed person should feel ashamed of themselves for their struggle. The truth is you can’t shame someone into feeling well. People are where they are, and while you may not like it, shaming them will not help them because they typically feel like a failure already. One of the most common conversations I have with depressed Christians is about their shame over their struggle. That’s not to say the person may not have contributed to their own depression through choices or sin, just as a diabetic may not be following their doctor’s eating plan. But YOU are in no position to make that judgement. Those realizations must come from God if they are needed.
Helpful alternative: I have struggles and brokenness too! God came to us both in our weaknesses and loves us no matter what.
4. “We were talking about your depression at small group the other day…” You may as well say, Hey- we all sit around gossiping about you and wondering what’s wrong with you! First of all, clearly, don’t gossip. But secondly, be aware that in many circles in the church, Christians feel like they have a second head if they begin to talk about their depression. People get awkward about it. The last thing they need is the feeling that other people are talking about them behind their back.
Helpful alternative: um, how about we just agree to quit talking about people?
5. “Why don’t you just end it all and put us out of this misery?” or “Go ahead and kill yourself instead of always threatening to!” I can only assume these statements were made out of anger or some misguided attempt to prove to the person they really don’t want to kill themselves. Either way this is dangerous at best and hateful at worst. Never, never tell a depressed person their life is not worth living (they already think it) Never imply your life would be better off without them around (they already believe it). Always speak hope, always speak love.
Helpful alternative: I love you, I care about you even if it’s hard to believe that right now. God loves you and cares about you even if you can’t feel it right now.
If you, or a loved one, struggle with depression and are looking for a place to turn, may I recommend a few resources:
Branches Counseling Center Murfreesboro,TN www.branchescounselingcenter.com
Celebrate Recovery http://www.celebraterecovery.com