Discipling People Struggling with Depression
These are pages taken from our ‘Good News For Real Life’ booklet. They contain short introductions to some common pastoral struggles. Think of them as conversation-starters to help us begin to understand and respond to complex issues. Not as experts but as brothers and sisters in Christ — pointing one another to Jesus with words of hope and grace.
In other words: to walk together as those with good news for real life
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
We all feel sad from time to time – that is a normal part of life in a fallen world – but sometimes the feelings of being low become more extreme. Depression is a condition where feelings of sadness and hopelessness become so dominant that daily living is significantly affected for weeks, months or years. People struggling with depression tend to lose motivation for things they used to enjoy, find it hard to engage with other people and, at times, lose the desire to keep going. Depressed people often feel that they are “bad” or “useless”. At its worst, depression can result in suicidal thoughts and actions.
WHAT CAUSES DEPRESSION?
There is no one cause of depression. Sometimes it is associated with low levels of serotonin (or other biochemicals). Sometimes there can be a genetic predisposition to struggling with depression. Sometimes it follows a traumatic event such as abuse, a bereavement or witnessing an accident. Sometimes it is related to guilt over things done in the past. Sometimes it is associated with us wanting something too much – e.g. single people wanting to be married so much that they can see no point in life without a spouse. Depression is often a mixture of two or more of these things. While it is possible to work out some of the causes that may be behind a person’s depression, we should always show humility – we can never fully understand what is going on in someone else’s mind.
WHAT WON’T WORK?
Telling someone to “think positively” or “just get on with life” won’t work. Depression is difficult to overcome, some people may continue to struggle with depression throughout their lives. Telling someone to “just take some medication” won’t solve the problem – it might help alleviate some of the symptoms, and it is definitely worth considering, but taking medication rarely addresses all the underlying causes. Avoiding conversation about suicide won’t help either. It is important to allow people to be honest about their desires and gently encourage them to keep going. Suicide is not an unforgiveable sin but it is not what God wants for his precious children.
HOW CAN I HELP SOMEONE WHO IS STRUGGLING WITH DEPRESSION?
Listen to their story. What hurts, fears and struggles do they have?
Remind them that God is generous with his forgiveness and comfort (Romans 8)
Ask them to describe how they see themselves and how they see God
Encourage them to see their doctor. This is particularly urgent if they are suicidal
Share how God sees them (Ephesians 1) and pray they will believe these truths
Help them to remember that, with God, there is always hope (Psalm 62)
Encourage them cry out to God in their pain (Psalm 63)
Encourage them to take exercise and to journal / express their emotions through art
Help them to wait patiently for the day when life will be perfect (Revelation 21–22)
Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Edward Welch (New Growth Press)