Emotions - Blog

How Do I Help Others Understand Depression and Anxiety?

Philip Long

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Depression is a dark, lonely place. For me, it feels as though I am trapped, drowning, with no hope of rescue. This has been my reality for as long as I can remember.

For me, depression feels as though I am trapped, drowning, with no hope of rescue.

I’ve seen counselors, taken the gamut of medications and been unofficially diagnosed with a bunch of guesses. On bad days, I think I’m just what a misguided but well-meaning friend suggested: a worrywart.

One out of six adults will experience depression in their lifetime. Chances are if you don’t, you have a friend who struggles.

Depression must not be dismissed.

When I was 6 years old, I used to wander the playground at school, fighting the negative scripts that ran through my head.

My family moved a lot, but I don’t think I was a sad kid. I was raised in a loving home, and my life is filled with good memories. But there’s always been a lingering fear in my mind.

Today, I’m 38, a writer and happily married with two children. Still, I have days when my inner world is in such upheaval I can’t get out of bed. So I stay in, nursing a headache fueled by inner voices of condemnation.

Real life doesn’t afford staying in bed. In those moments, I feel profoundly broken.

Christians have a way of shooting the wounded. Even I am guilty of this. When I meet someone who is struggling, my first instinct is to fix him. If I can fix him, I think to myself, I’ll feel better; I will have done some good, and I can move on.

More often, though, our attempts to fix simply reveal our lack of understanding.

God does the opposite. God meets us where we are, and he sticks with us.

In the Bible, there is a story of a man named Elijah who was being chased by a queen named Jezebel. He begged God to let him die. Rather than fixing him or his predicament, God offered him rest. God allowed him to sleep, feeding him for two days. Later, they talked (1 Kings 19:1-18).

When Abraham, childless and discouraged, sat in his tent and cried, God showed up. Rather than reasoning with him, God offered Abraham hope as they walked and counted the stars (Genesis 15:1-6).

The problem with depression is that when people say it’s all in your head, they are absolutely correct.

The problem with depression is that when people say it’s all in your head, they are absolutely correct. As the cells in your brain become unable to transmit or receive the right signals to regulate mood, your body may slow down, your stomach may tighten. You may lose your appetite, or gain one. You may want to sleep all the time, you may not be able to sleep, and on and on.

Depression and anxiety are as baffling as we humans are complex. There’s no simple solution, and acting like there is one is like throwing salt on the wound. My situation is not the same as someone else’s.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t help. The following are a few things I’ve learned that were good for me. Maybe they will help you navigate your own, or a friend’s, depression or anxiety:

  • Remember that you are not a mental health professional. (I’m not either, by the way.) Don’t come with authority, trying to fix; come with love, trying to understand.
  • Make no assumptions. As a friend of mine put it, “Depression is idiosyncratic; it’s not a one-size-fits-all condition.”
  • Be present and listen.
  • Assure friends that you want to hear what they’re going through. We often hide, assuming our inner struggles will drive others away.
  • Pray. Only God knows the full story.
  • Embrace the complexity. Each situation is unique. What works for one individual may not work for another. Medication, exercise, diet, prayer, Scripture, meditating on Scripture and healthy leisure are all proven helps, but overemphasizing the benefits of one to the exclusion of others can be problematic. Think holistically.

* The content of this article is not intended to endorse or be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have.

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