The month of January doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to mental health. This year especially, when so many more people are isolated and vulnerable, it’s an ideal moment to consider how we could give our time and resources to help those suffering from depression and anxiety.
Mental illness outworks itself differently from one person to the next, so I only draw on my previous experience as both someone who’s had depression and has been a friend to those with it. Most of all we can look at what the Bible says about caring for each other.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on a wound,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.
Be present with people in their pain
There are times when someone is feeling down and the best thing we can do is to cheer them up. But when someone has severe depression, cracking jokes or being even bubblier than usual in an attempt to help them see the bright side is rarely appreciated.
The Bible is clear that we should set aside our own emotions to truly empathise with somebody else’s. This Romans verse doesn’t say ‘cheer up those who mourn’ or even ‘comfort those who mourn’ (although that is part of it) – instead, the verb is repeated! We should love people so well that their pain is our pain. Why else would Jesus weep with Mary for the loss of her brother, even though he knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead?
If someone is huddled in a corner on the floor, or hiding under a blanket on the sofa, the best thing might be to just sit quietly with them in their pain. This might not be physically possible whilst in lockdown, but the principle is the same. It’s a selfless putting aside of our own feelings to understand somebody else’s, disregarding when the world tells us to cut out ‘negative people’ from our lives.
[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:7
Persevere with invitations or communication
Lockdown isn’t the time for inviting people over, but we can still invite them on a walk or give them a call. If someone ignores your messages and you know they’re struggling, keep going, but let them know it’s ok if they say ‘no’ too. Your pride might be hurt, you may feel like giving up, but your perseverance can make all the difference.
When I was in that place, it was the friends who turned up at my door as a last resort whose genuine care really got through to me. I’d ignored their calls because I didn’t want to be seen, but they were loyal. I’m an extravert and my friends knew I needed people more than I was aware, but for someone else, even a consistent text checking in might convey that message.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
Show you care in practical giving
When you’re depressed, even the smallest daily task can feel like a huge burden. So providing something small like food or giving a lift to the doctors (in non Covid times) can mean a lot and is an easy way of letting someone know you’re thinking of them.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Hold back your frustration and listen with gentleness
There are times when speaking to a depressed friend will be frustrating. Especially if you feel like they aren’t making the most of what God has given them. I can understand why people who cared about me reacted this way. They were angry when they heard me speaking horrible words about myself or hiding away from the world, because they loved me. Showing that anger, however, usually made me feel more worthless, that it would be easier if I wasn’t around to cause that pain. So if you’re feeling frustrated, share those thoughts with God or with another person you trust, and be gentle over everything.
A person finds joy in giving an apt reply –
and how good is a timely word!
Pray for the right words
Whatever you say, don’t say nothing. I’ve had this experience and know others who have too – you open up and share vulnerably with a trusted friend and you get back… nothing. I appreciate that sometimes people are so scared of making the situation worse that they think it’s safer to avoid the topic altogether. But the Holy Spirit will help you if you don’t know how to react, and sometimes you just need to be honest that you’re worried about what to say. It’s a privilege when anybody opens up to us and we need to honour that by responding in love.
Above all, pray pray pray for God to restore your friend or family member’s mental health. He is the one who keeps track of all our sorrows (Psalm 56:8) and cares for your friend more than you know.
The easiest thing to remember when we don’t know how to help is to look to Jesus’ patience, tender-heartedness and generosity for guidance. Reminding people of him with our words, and showing him in our actions.
A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.