“Be patient. God is using today’s difficulties to strengthen you for tomorrow. He is equipping you. The God who makes things grow will help you bear fruit” (Max Lucado).
How true that is! The very God who made all things is also the One who will help us through the difficult times in life. We all have difficult times, but the suffering from depression and/or anxiety can feel as though every day is difficult or certain days are the worst ever. That is why some even consider suicide as an alternative.
Most of us don’t have the professional credentials when it comes to counseling a depressed person, but that certainly doesn’t mean that there isn’t something we can do to help them. There are various things to do and certainly not to do when dealing with a depressed person. By the grace of God we can help the depressed loved one work through their depression.
In the first part of this article, what depression and anxiety are was laid out as well as their various symptoms. In part two we became aware of many treatment options for both illnesses. In this third and final part, we will look at what we can do to help the depressed loved one. “But Dan,” you may be saying, “I don’t even know what to say or do.” Or, “Can I really help even if I never experienced it myself before?” It’s okay, and, yes you can help. Lord willing, by reading this part of the article—as well as the previous two—you will be much better equipped to help your depressed loved one.
What Does “Melancholy” Mean?
Before we delve right into what you can do to help the depressed loved one, I feel it’s important we get a decent understanding of what type of person is likely to get depressed—maybe even a little quicker than other people. The better we understand the type of person, the better we can relate to them and help them. We’ll do that by looking at what it means to be “melancholy” or melancholy type personality, according to Florence Littauer; or “C” type, according to Robert A. Rohm, Ph. D.
This type of personality is (typically): deep, thoughtful, analytical, quiet, laid-back, task-oriented, cautious, careful, calculating, perfectionist. They are emotional, except their highs are higher, their lows are lower, and the whole pattern is prolonged. It can be hard to determine if they’re happy or sad, because they prefer not to get excited, and much of their life is rather serious—even just plain depressing. As mentioned by Ms. Littauer, they tend to take everything too personally. She also mentions how they can take a positive situation and turn it into a negative.
It’s really no wonder then that when a person uses significant mental energy focusing on negatives that such a mind falls easily into depression. Littauer says how the Melancholy should keep his thoughts on positives, and “the minute he finds himself focusing on the negative aspect of anything, he must refuse those thoughts an entrance.” They need to be and think more positive and work to find the best in situations and people, and we can help them do this. True, it’s not easy for any of us to do.
Littauer (who has battled with depression herself) says, “Look for the best in people, and when things go wrong, thank God for the experience and ask him what positive lesson you are to learn from this.” She mentions Proverbs 16:20b, “…and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.”
As Robert Rohm describes them as the “C” type personality, he mentions that their basic need is quality answers. They tend to be quite sensitive. “They react more to their environment, rather than responding to it,” Dr. Rohm adds. They’re known to see what’s wrong, rather than what’s right. He goes on to say, “Learn how they think and feel, and you will be able to work better with them.”
This is certainly not to say that this is the only personality type to fall into depression. All four types can fall into depression (for a better understanding of the four types, read both Littauer’s and Rohm’s books, which are listed at the end of this article).
How To Help That Depressed Loved One
As mentioned earlier, you can help that depressed loved one. You can do that by your support and encouragement—this can play a pivotal role in their recovery. However, it’s equally important to take proper care of yourself. Ever try to help someone with a project or try to explain something to someone when you don’t feel well at all yourself? Doesn’t work out so well, does it? It works kind of the same way with dealing with someone who’s depressed. It may be a weak example, but I trust you get the point. How can you help someone who’s depressed if you’re not well or even a little depressed yourself? You need to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, so then you can better help that depressed loved one.
So, how can you help them? Well, it is difficult to deal with a loved one’s depression. It can even become overwhelming if you’re not careful.
You can help by learning about the problem (we don’t know what we don’t know), encourage them to seek treatment, and offer support. Also, as mentioned before, you need to look after your own emotional health.
Education Is Key
Have you ever gone over to your parents house and had them say to you, “Are you feeling ok? You look a little pale.” Or someone else you know well may say, “Have you lost weight or something? You look different than the last time I saw you.” It’s a little bit like that with depression. If you’re depressed, your family may (even without knowing about the symptoms) likely sense a problem even before you do, and you’re the one with the depression. The family member’s positive influence and concern can likely motivate the depressed person to seek help. But—according to helpguide.org—you need to understand what you’re dealing with before you can help someone who is depressed, so educate yourself about its symptoms, causes, and treatment (emphasis mine).
One example that comes to mind is of when I was working on the front brakes of my sister’s car. Aside from all the other challenges I faced while working on it, I just could not figure out what to do about a couple bolts—one was broken off and the other just wouldn’t come off. I talked to a local mechanic I know well, told him the problem and even showed him a picture of the problem. He still told me that he really needed to physically look at the car to fully grasp what he could do to fix it. We finally got the car over to him and he ended up taking care of it and now it’s all fixed.
The mechanic needed to educate himself by physically looking at the car. So also, we can educate ourselves about depression by reading about and researching it.
It’s Important To Understand the Loved One’s Depression
It’s not like being hypnotized and someone just snaps their fingers and you go from being asleep to awake, or being depressed to not being depressed. That is why your love and support is so important to that depressed person.
Connecting with someone on a deep emotional level can be very hard for a depressed person, and they can speak hurtful words and even lash out in anger. It’s important to remember that you not take this personally; for it’s the depression, not the loved one, that is talking.
If you get a big gash on your arm and then quickly wrap it and always hide it by wearing long-sleeved shirts, will the gash get better on its own? No, not too likely. The gash needs to be looked at and properly taken care of by a nurse or doctor. You can do what you wish to cover up that gash; but it’s still there, it still hurts, and it will certainly hurt if someone touches that arm and then they will wonder why that hurt so badly. What would you do then? Would you start with all the excuses and false reasons why it hurts? The same can be said if you have depression. You could try to hide it for as long as you could in hopes that no one will ever discover the depression and also that it will just go away on its own, but that likelihood is very slim to none.
That is why it’s imperative to seek medical help as soon as you can. Understand though, that with depression, it’s a much different ache and pain than a bruise or cut on your body. The wound of depression can and will likely take much longer to heal and require more treatment. So do not try to hide your depression and hope it will go away. If you do think about hiding your depression, think about the words in Psalm 9:9-10: “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” Did you catch that? The Lord will not forsake them that seek him. That is something you can find comfort in. Trust in him for he is always there.
For those who have a depressed loved one, remember not to be an enabler. Just like if your loved one had a large gash on their arm and you helped them hide it and made excuses for and lied about it with and for them, so you may be tempted to do with their depression. Well, don’t. Doing so might keep them from even seeking the treatment they need.
Also, you are not the “rescuer” or “fixer” of their depression. It’s just not up to you to fix, nor are you to blame. You are, however, there to care for and support your loved one as they work through their depression. You can do more than you realize by just being there for them. As Florence Littauer says: we can confess to a friend and they might sympathize, but only the Lord Jesus can take away the pain.
How To Encourage A Depressed Loved One To Seek Help
It’s not always so easy to get a depressed person to get treatment. The depressed person is likely empty of energy and motivation, so even the simple act of setting an appointment can seem rather daunting. With depression can also come the waves of negative thinking. Such thinking can include: “I’m not sure why the doctor would want to see me anyway.” “It’s not even worth getting any help.” or “I’ll probably not get better anyway, so it’ll just be a waste of everyone’s time.” Just as Jesus calmed the rough seas spoken of in Mark 4, so he can calm the rough waves of negative thoughts. You can change the negative into positive, but it will take work. But, oh the great benefits it will bring!
You can see how these obstacles can cause a depressed person to not even seek treatment. That is why your love and encouragement is so crucial. The depressed person needs to get help. “Only when we realistically face the truth can we begin to overcome the hurt and despair. The worst approach is to pretend that it never happened,” says Littauer.
So, what can you do if your loved one resists getting help for depression? There are a few things you can do. The first thing is to suggest a general check-up with a physician. Since family doctors are usually less intimidating than a mental health professional, your loved one may see the family doctor more willingly. Also, the doctor is able to rule out a medical cause of depression. You could also either offer to go with the person to the doctor or help them find a new doctor or a therapist. Because of how difficult it can be to find a good doctor or therapist, any help you can give can be greatly appreciated by the depressed loved one. A third thing you can do is to encourage your loved one to make a thorough list of symptoms to discuss with the doctor. There may even be things that you personally noticed that you can bring to the doctor’s attention.
Supporting Your Loved One
Give your unconditional love and support by being compassionate and patient. You won’t know how important this really is until you go through it.
Why do we like it when someone is supportive? Simply because it involves them offering encouragement and hope to us. It shows us that that person is there for us and cares about us, and that is exactly what a depressed person needs. The book of Psalms is full of encouragement and hope. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:1, 7). Psalm 147:3 reads: “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Notice that the word “wounds” can be translated as “griefs.” God will comfort us when depressed. He is the Comforter and the Rock we can go to when we feel lowly and in despair.
When talking to a depressed person, it’s important to know what to say and not to say. Let them know that they’re not alone in this and that you’re there for them. Tell them that their feeling will change. Let them know, even though you don’t understand how they feel, you do care about them and want them to get help. Ask what you can do to help them. Assure them that you are there for them and you’ll get through it together. Remember, if you say you’re going to be there for them, be sure that you are there for them!
Do not tell them that it’s just all in their head and to simply “snap out of it.” Do not say, “We all go through difficulties. You’ll be OK.” Don’t tell them to “look on the bright side,” or that you can’t do anything about their situation. Or, if they feel rather worthless (which is quite likely), don’t tell them all about your accomplishments you had when you were their age. Basically, think before you speak. Use an intelligent or “smart” tongue.
By being helpful and supportive, you can better tackle the depression monster as a team. For, together everyone achieves more. Remember, as you travel with them toward recovery, don’t try to be more than the passenger or supporter. You are there to help them, not to do it for them.
Does the thought of tackling your depression seem overwhelming? Well, don’t panic. The helpless and hopeless feeling is simply a symptom of your depression. It does not mean that you’re weak or can’t change! It’s important to start small and ask for help. Experts say that having a strong support system in place will expedite your recovery. Also, because isolation fuels depression, it’s important to reach out to others, even when you feel you want to be alone. It’s a good idea to inform your family and friends of what you’re going through and how they can help and support you.
Depression can stay with someone for a while. My sister can attest to that. She has suffered from it and is still fighting it. Her depression had gotten quite severe. I’ll let her say, in her own words, just how severe it got: “My depression was so severe that I was not only having suicidal thoughts, I was about to put them into action. I can tell you first hand that depression is not only very real but it can also be very debilitating. Unless you have experienced it, you will not be able to understand what someone suffers when they are going through depression; so the best thing you can do is just be there for them.”
Helping A Loved One With Anxiety Disorder
Again, it’s important to be there for the loved one and not to ridicule or humiliate them in any way. What they need is for you to listen actively while refraining from giving advice. Their complaints may be a bit exaggerated, but that is all part of their disorder and shows further how you need to help them find the help they need. You may ask the doctor how you can best cooperate with the treatment plan.
Anxiety disorders are an illness and they can be improved with treatment. That is why it’s important your loved one gets the help they need. Remember, however, not to push them into treatment; rather continue to encourage them to seek treatment. If you do seek some help, consult your family doctor or obtain referral to a psychiatrist.
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), people who experience anxiety disorders and their families may spend months—even years—not knowing what’s wrong. Family members should learn about the disorder to help them know what to expect from the illness as well as the recovery process. Learning when to exercise patience and when to exert a little pressure would also be very beneficial.
Even though family support is not the cure, it’s still of great importance to the recovery process.
Let’s take a look at a few things a family member can do to help a loved one with an anxiety disorder: Learn about the disorder. You should recognize and praise small accomplishments. You may need to modify expectation during stressful periods. Measure progress on the basis of individual improvement, not against some set standard. You should also be flexible and try to maintain a normal routine.
Don’t forget that, as a family member, the recovery process will be stressful for you as well. One thing that will help is building a support network of relatives and friends.
May you, as well as all of us, find comfort in these words! Also, may the following quotes be of help and comfort to you:
“Don’t worry about tomorrow…God is already there!”
“Feelings stay with us until we deal with them.”
“Nothing is stronger than habit.”—Ovid
“You cannot change the past. You can absolutely change the future.”
“Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still.”—Chinese proverb
“When we face tough problems, we stay mired in the mud until we take action.”—David J. Schwartz, Ph. D., author, The Magic of Thinking Big
As we have now seen, depression (as well as anxiety) is an illness that should not be taken lightly; but it can be made better with the proper help and treatment. So, if you have a loved one suffering from depression, remember to: encourage, love, and support them. Show them you care and want them to get better and will help them to a limited degree (without enabling them). Do not push, yell at, or berate them in any way. Also remember to educate yourself, for depression is certainly abstruse (difficult to comprehend; profound).
With God all things are possible, and if it is his will, that loved one’s depression will improve. The Lord knows how we feel and what we go through each and every day. We see that in the words that were in our church bulletin a while back which I feel ties in well with all this and I’d like to add it here now.
In all their affliction, he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9). How could the care of God for his children be expressed in a plainer or more positive way? In their afflictions—He was afflicted. When they suffered—He suffered. In their sorrow—He sorrowed!…In heaven he is touched with the feeling of his people’s infirmities! (Heb. 4:15). If you are weak—the burden of your weakness presses upon him. If you are hurt—the hurt is felt by him…There is no experience of your life—which he does not share. Whatever your need, your trial, your perplexity, your struggle may be—you may be sure that God knows and “careth for you” (I Peter 5:7).—J. Miller
As we read in Nahum 1:7, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.”
The Lord is good and merciful, and we should always come to him when we are in need. He is our light that will lighten our darkness, as mentioned in II Samuel 22:29.
I pray that God may comfort your troubled heart and that you may begin to find relief from your depression and/or anxiety. Let us all better educate ourselves and one another so we may be better able to help those who need it. We all, whether as individuals or churches or other organizations, need to better educate ourselves on this topic as well as many others. Pray to God for the strength and knowledge as we move forward!
Here are some other helpful scripture texts that those I talked with have found helpful, as may you.
Psalm: 27, 31, 34, 42, 55:22, 61:1-4, 62, 71, 73, 77, 116, 139
Heb. 4:13-16, Lam. 3:21ff, Deut. 33:27, Phil. 4:4-8, II Cor. 4:8-9, Rom. 8:18 & 28
Other helpful scripture texts:
James 1:2-6, Isaiah 40:31, Rev. 21:4, John 14:1,18,27; II Cor. 4:17,
Psalm 18:1-3 & 30, Psalm 86:6-7, II Sam. 22:29, I Peter 1:7,
Isaiah 26: 3-4, Rom. 8: 28-39; Lord’s Day 9 & 10, Q & A 26-28
The following literature has been very helpful to those I talked with:
Happiness Is A Choice: The Symptoms, Causes, and Cures of Depression by Frank B. Minirth, M.D., Paul D. Meier, M.D.
Anxiety & Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne
Beside Still Waters/Words of Comfort For the Soul by Charles H. Spurgeon.
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. John Townsend
Depression for Dummies by Laura L. Smith, Ph.D., Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.
Being the Person God Made You to Be. The Power of Determination by Joyce Meyer.
Dealing With Depression: A Christian Perspective by Faith PRC Evangelism Committee.
Quick Scripture References for Counseling by Rev. John Kruis.
Other books you may find helpful:
The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, Ph. D. (We all tend to think small and this book helps with expanding and improving our thinking)
What To Say When You Talk To Your Self by Shad Helmstetter, Ph.D. (We all talk to ourselves, and this great book shows us how to in a more positive way.)
Positive Personality Profiles by Robert A. Rohm, Ph. D. (Helps us in a more modern way of understanding each personality and each other)
Personality Plus by Florence Littauer (Describes each personality type and how to deal with each other better)
Peaks and Valleys by Spencer Johnson, M.D. (Great short story of how to better look at each situation in life)
The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. (Fantastic book which shows how even the smallest thing can make a big difference.)
Blow Away the Black Clouds by Florence Littauer (Personal testimony of how Ms. Littauer went through depression and helps others through it)
The Bible (Greatest book to be used for any form of help, encouragement, and counseling)