5 things NOT to say to a depressed person

Wendy Komancheck is a talented writer with many published articles to her credit. In this essay, Wendy shares some thoughts on an important and personal subject…

I know that this title should be more universal to include what anybody should avoid saying to those who are depressed. However, I’m coming from a Christian worldview where I’ve seen God work in my life through my depression and anxiety. Yet, I’ve witnessed some unkind comments and attitudes from those in the church who ignore that passage in Romans, “So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.” (Romans 14.13 MSG).

I’m also blessed to have Leslie Vernick’s permission to use excerpts from her book, Defeating Depression: Real Hope for Life Changing Wholeness. Leslie is a counselor, writer, and speaker. She’s counseled many folks who have depression, as well as experienced depression herself. You can find out more about Leslie here.

I’m using portions of Leslie’s sample letter for people who are depressed to send to their family and friends. Here are the five things that all Christians should avoid saying when they meet someone who is depressed:

1. Just Get Over It– Yeah, right. Please also tell all your friends who have diabetes, heart disease, and cancer to get over it too. As Leslie writes in her book, “I don’t like feeling this way. Believe me, if I could just snap out of it, I would have done so.”

2.Don’t avoid the depressed person – I know that when I hit that downward spiral, I tend to back off and isolate myself because this is a part of me that I absolutely hate. But this is an opportunity for healthy Christians to walk alongside their hurting brothers and sisters–even the ones that isolate.

Leslie relates the story of the Good Samaritan as an example of reaching out to the emotionally hurting. “He (the Good Samaritan) helped the wounded man and demonstrated compassion. Please understand that right now I may not be able to do for myself what I once was able to do. I may need your help and some of your time, energy and/or money to get better. Please offer them generously; don’t make me ask or beg. I probably won’t. When you seem reluctant or unwilling to help me, I don’t feel I’m worth anything to you.”

3. Speak the truth in love – Leslie also adds grace. Negative self-talk is one of the symptoms of depression–whether depression stems from genetics, poor parenting, life circumstances or a combination of the above. And I’m speaking from experience that often the depressed person is turning in on themselves and it’s extremely hard to get out of that rut. So, when a Christian brother or sister says, “You’re depressed because of XYZ sin” or some other self-righteous remark, you’re only hurting the depressed person more.

“I’m a prisoner of my own harsh words. I do not need to hear scolding from others. The Bible tells us to help the weak–I Thess. 5:14. Right now, I’m weak. Help me regain my strength. Your words are very powerful to me, especially negative ones. I hear them louderĀ  (sic) than any other words you will ever say,” Leslie writes in her letter.

4. Don’t judge a Christian brother or sister for getting counseling and/or taking medication. This is a biggie with me. I’ve had Christians poo-poo medications and counseling. Yet, science is finding that there are genetic components to mood disorders like depression, anxiety, et. al., and there’s plenty of evidence that medications combined with therapy help many who are depressed.

I thank God for those who invented these drugs and therapies–because without them, I might’ve committed suicide long ago. Thus, sometimes that pill serves a purpose of helping the depressed person out of her funk. So when you start pontificating on the vices of seeking help, you end up confusing the depressed person or worse, help her down the path of self-destruction.

Also, please understand that most counselors, psychiatrists, etc. care about their patients and want them to get well–just like family doctors, cardiologists, and other doctors treating the physical part of a person wants to see that person get better. A lot of times it’s trial and error until the right med/therapy combo can be found. Further, there’s a percentage of people who don’t respond to therapy or medication at and they may need other forms of therapy for recovery–and which many times don’t fit into the typical, good American Christian model.

5. Finally, think before you speak. In other words, are you sounding off like Job’s friends did? Leslie quotes this from Job 16:3-5:

“Won’t you ever stop your flow of foolish words? What have I said that makes you speak so endlessly? I could say the same things if you were in my place. I could spout off criticisms against you and shake my head at you. But that’s not what I would do. I would speak in a way that helps you. I would try to take away your grief.”

Man, those are some pointed words. My hope is that the next time that you hear that someone has been diagnosed with depression or another mood disorder, that you won’t get on your high horse and tell them to “Just get over it” because that statement won’t help them. Instead, try reaching out to them–even if it’s just to sit there for a half hour and not say anything at all–so the depressed person feels less alone and more loved by your presence.

To learn more about Wendy, and to read some of her other writing, visit her blog.

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