I was a law enforcement officer on patrol on South Main Street when I got the call. The telecommunicator advised me to 10-21 (call) my residence. I heard my wife say between sobs, “I am so afraid of being alone and of what I might do.”
I called my sergeant, was released from duty and raced home. There I found my wife, Kathy, sitting on the floor crying. I sat down with her and attempted to console her. I will never forget what she said next. “I have never been so depressed in my entire life.”
Even she didn’t understand what had happened to her. It just happened. For the next two weeks, I took a leave-of-absence just to be with her.
According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness, an estimated 16 million American adults — almost 7 percent of the population — have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. People of all ages, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds experience depression, though some groups are affected more than others.
Depression was very prevalent in Kathy’s family, and she had seen her dad struggle with it all of his life. When Kathy and I were first faced with it, we sought help from our pastor. He said it was an issue of faith. Next, we contacted her physician, who prescribed medication.
On church prayer request lists, we read about people who have cancer or heart conditions. There are others who have suffered traumatic events or consequences of sin, but depression is never mentioned. Is it because of shame and embarrassment, or have we failed to properly address depression in the Christian context?
In the Bible we see numerous examples. David, Elijah, Jonah, Job, Moses and Jeremiah suffered from depression. These are the ones we know about. Even Jesus experienced anxiety. “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death,” are the words He spoke in the garden of Gethsemane. Isaiah the prophet refers to the Lord as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), which show us Christ’s humanity.
Have we failed to properly address depression in the Christian context?
So what can we do to help?
Group life is a beautiful way to encourage people who are depressed. Because of transparent relationships, groups can encourage those who suffer with depression while providing a safe, gospel-centered place for them.
Here are some specific ways your group can help those around you who may be struggling with depression:
- Begin with unconditional love. (1 Corinthians 13)
- Learn how “The Fall,” and the consequences of brokenness, affect the total person — mind, body, spirit and environment. (Genesis 3)
- Even after we are saved, we may have biological or medical issues in life. Though God is bringing healing to us, our complete healing does not take place until we have glorified bodies. (Philippians 1:19-26)
- Learn about depression.
- Be real, but understand that depression masks the real person.
- Rather than trying to solve their problems, simply walk beside them.
- Encourage them to do things with you like sharing meals, exercising or attending a relaxing community event.
- Do small tasks for them. What is routine for you may be overwhelming to them.
- Stay in contact on a regular basis.
- Understand depression is one of the drivers of suicide.
It’s been more than 35 years since the day I was called home from patrol. Kathy now leads a group of senior adults at our church who are transparent and real. They encourage and walk beside each other, wherever life may take them, and spur each other on for the glory of God.
Though Kathy continues to struggle with depression, she is able to deal with it in healthy ways, such as bird-watching, photography and frequent family gatherings. Kathy gave permission to share her story in order to help others who also suffer from depression.
People who are depressed can benefit from strong family relationships, medical assistance, hobbies and strong community involvement like small groups. Groups are the place where people connect to churches, so they offer unique opportunities to help people where they really struggle in life.
Sometimes people are hesitant to get involved in things they do not understand, but all of us suffer from various kinds of brokenness. Don’t be afraid to get involved with people who are depressed. Remember the words of Jesus, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world» (John 16:33).