Supporting a Christian friend who is struggling with depression is often tricky, especially if you’ve never experienced the disease yourself. As friends, we want to offer advice and support, but finding the words can feel like walking through a landmine if you aren’t prepared.
The problem doesn’t stem from lack of caring, just lack of personal experience and the desire to help your friend cure or “fix” their depression. It is the natural instinct to somehow, someway help make someone you care about better, but unfortunately “curing” depression isn’t so easy and the wrong words could make your friend feel even worse.
Jeff Lucas, writing for Christian Today, suggests remembering that “intentional, focused listening can be more helpful than just saying things with the view that what we utter is going to ‘fix’ everything for a depressed person. Your interest, compassion, presence and care matter more than any words that you might say.”
However, when we do need to speak it is most important to remember to focus not on fixing the problem, but providing support. While our words may not be able to cure a disease on their own, offering a shoulder to a struggling friend can be exactly what they need. And if you’re afraid of using the wrong words, Lucas offers a few key phrases to avoid:
1. ‘Get over it’.
If depression was that simple, no one would choose to experience it. People don’t choose to be depressed any more than one chooses to get any other disease. While a person experiencing depression may need a very gentle nudge towards seeking treatment or making positive lifestyle changes, it requires a very light touch. “What they don’t need is an aggressive cheerleader with a megaphone hollering, ‘get a life!'”
2. ‘Come out, in Jesus’ Name’.
Somehow, a sizable number of Christians still immediately leap to satanic influence when a friend is experiencing depression or any other form of mental illness. The truth however is much more simple. Depression is an illness. Jeff Lucas suggests a more steadied response. “We are involved in spiritual warfare at times, and we should all remember that. But suggesting that dark forces are always the source of their darkness is unlikely to help. On the contrary.”
3. ‘Stir your faith’.
“People who have been rather famous for their faith, like Elijah, ended up depressed, camped in a cave, and wanting to do nothing but sleep and possibly stop living. Add to the list the apostle Paul, Jeremiah, Jonah, and, yes, Jesus (he was hardly happy in Gethsemane) and you’ll see that faith doesn’t guarantee exemption from emotional turbulence,” notes Lucas. While faith can help us through difficult times, it is not often the solution on its own. It won’t cure depression any more than it will cure the common cold. But, it may offer insight which will help you on a path towards rehabilitation.
4. ‘I’m going to be there for you’.
This isn’t a hurtful statement in its own right, but it is important to remember that you are making a big commitment with your words at a time when your friend is vulnerable. “It’s not that you should never say this, but you should only say it when you really mean it, and you know that you can deliver. Depressed people don’t need to add disappointment with their friends to their list of things to be less than cheerful about.” By all means, be there to support your friend when you can, but you should be cautious about creating an unrealistic expectation that you can’t live up to. “If you say it, do it.”
5. ‘Everything will be fine, you’ll see’.
“Everything does not always turn out fine,” says Lucas. “Ask the disciples of Jesus, who, for the most part, ended their lives as martyrs. There’s no guarantee that life is going to get sunnier, just because we say it will. Life can be hard, We’re not promised anything different, but are told that, with God, we’re never going to be alone again, regardless of what we feel. We do have hope and help to offer, but let’s make sure that it’s real.”