Whether you realize it or not, you most likely know somebody who suffers from clinical depression and anxiety. Not only that, my guess is that person may very well be taking – gasp! – meds to help calm their jittery nerves and lift their down emotions.
It’s funny (funny odd, not funny ha-ha) that many Christians freeze up in discomfort when they hear somebody say they have anxiety and depression. We know how to handle people who are ill with cancer or any number of physical ailments. But when it comes to emotional illnesses…
I don’t believe the inability of many Christians to connect comfortably with depressed / anxious individuals comes from any malice or lack of love. The discomfort is deeply rooted in simply not knowing what to say or what to do. So much of what we do to comfort a physically ill person doesn’t translate well when reaching out to someone suffering an emotional illness. I understand. We depressed / anxious people can be tricky to deal with, especially when we’re in the throes of a prolonged panic attack or episode of depression.
How do you reach out to someone who is hurting so bad on the inside and yet, most likely, just wants to draw inward in the hopes that the pain will go away and the nerves will soothe and the black will brighten? Let me help you to help us.
First and foremost, relax. It isn’t your job to fix anybody. You are (most likely) not a counselor or therapist or psychologist. Understand that the onus of healing is not upon you. None of us can fix ourselves, let alone anybody else.
However, you can love. And love – sometimes tender, sometimes tough – is what we need. Not coddling, but reassurance. You see, those of us who deal with these things understand all too well the stigma that comes with anything some in the church view as “weak.” Don’t immediately assume that someone who is depressed or anxious is paying some penance for an undisclosed sin. Judge not, lest ye be judged.
But understand that we often feel marginalized by our brothers and sisters in Christ (no matter how unintentional). We feel your discomfort. And it drives us further into ourselves. What we need, when we are roughly sailing life’s choppy waters, is understanding. And reassurance. And love. We need someone to comfort us, tell us we’re not crazy (we’re not, by the way). Speak God’s truth to us because, frankly, times like this often rattle our faith as well as our nerves, making prayer difficult (if not impossible).
Realize that, despite how irrational it may seem to you (and, when we can look at our situation objectively, to us as well), anxiety and depression makes us feel like our boat is sinking. Instead of pouring water on a drowning man, grab a bucket and help us right the boat. Do it with compassion. Pray with us. Be there.
Understand that, yes, what we’re thinking and feeling is most likely irrational. And you cannot rationalize an irrational situation. But you can comfort. You can be salt and light. You can help draw us out of our worrisome shells. You can help calm our fears. You can understand how lonely and isolated depression and anxiety makes one feel (after all, who wants to bring down the people around them with all their troubles?).
You can genuinely love people who deal with anxiety and depression, remembering the definition of love:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails… – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 [ESV]
Remember, you don’t have to fix anybody. What we deal with is an ailment no different that any physical disease (and regardless of what triggers the episode). We just need to be understood. We just need love. We just need reminded that we are loved and someone is there for us.
And, really, can you think of any human being who doesn’t need these things?