The depressing sermon about depression.
There was a sermon a couple of weeks ago entitled “I have a friend who… is totally depressed.” The sermon discussed depression, its causes, treatments, and a little bit about what to do if you’re a friend of someone who’s depressed.
As someone who struggles almost constantly with depression, I frankly was very discouraged by this sermon. I think it tried to cover too much ground and ended up covering nothing. It didn’t get to the heart of any aspect of depression. It actually emphasized medication more than counseling or relying on the fellowship of a Christian community. Apparently the first thing we should do if we’re depressed is see our doctor. What about a trusted Christian friend? What about getting recommendations of a good Christian counselor? What about natural supplementation? What about all the nasty side effects of these magic pills? I believe seeing a doctor is important, but you have to be very careful about who you see. I think some of my depression is related to my thyroid, so treating my thyroid would help me more than antidepressants. So if a doctor wants to give you antidepressants without any investigation, walk away.
The only tidbit of advice that this sermon gave about how to be a good friend to someone who’s depressed is to not tell the depressed person to pray more or have more faith. I agree that this is good advice, but for a sermon entitled “I have a friend who is totally depressed” I’d expect a little more than that.
I guess I’ll take a stab at that question. First of all, it’s not enough to say, “Call me if you need to talk.” Someone who’s depressed isn’t all about taking initiative, especially at their worst. I think people do this to feel better about themselves, you feel like you’ve done something without actually doing anything at all. If you want to really be a friend to someone who’s depressed, you need to initiate some contact, even if it appears to be rejected. Depressed people often feel invisible, and I really think it’s because people treat them that way because it’s easier to ignore them than to risk some uncomfortable exchange. And then initiate the contact again.
And when you talk to them, show some respect. I’ve been treated like I’m stupid because I’m depressed. People have tried to reason me out of my feelings. Telling me I shouldn’t feel alone, sad, like an outcast, etc. because of whatever reason. This just makes me feel more alone, and confirms that neither you nor anyone else ‘gets’ me at all.
One of the areas where you need to show respect is the decision to medicate or not. I personally have chosen not to medicate, but I have also known people who have been given flack for choosing to medicate. I was in a group situation where I chose to make my struggle with depression known, and I got a flood of people telling me to take medication without even asking what my opinion was. They were so patronizing as to include in the group prayer that I would become comfortable with taking medicine and realize that it didn’t show weakness in my faith. Yet another situation where I knew I couldn’t discuss my depression with this group of Christians anymore.
I will share why I have chosen not to medicate. I believe that my depression is spiritually and biologically based. I think I know myself better than any of you do. Second, I believe that God created our bodies to process what is found in the natural world. Artificial chemicals usually do more harm than good. This fact has already been shown to be true in many instances. Anti-depressants are associated with suicide attempts in adolescents. They have been shown to kill the beneficial bacteria in the intestine, thus lowering immunity and causing malnutrition. They’ve also been shown to increase water retention and weight gain, the last thing I need. Also, the long term effects of these drugs are not known; the people who are taking these drugs are the guinea pigs. So, for me, no thank you. You’ll notice that none of my reasoning has to do with me thinking it would show weakness or being concerned about what people think of me. As far as I’m concerned no one has the right to judge how I deal with this, especially someone who does not struggle with depression.
Medication is an area where if you choose to bring up the subject, you need to ask questions first. Why has your friend chosen to medicate or not? And then listen. If you think their reasoning is flawed, gently point it out and present it as simply your opinion. You can’t force it one way or another, and if you’re disrespectful you will accomplish nothing but making the person feel more alone and hopeless. Once again, depressed people aren’t stupid, they’re depressed.
I can not speak for all people who’ve struggled with depression, but if we choose to open up to you, first of all take it as a compliment. I’m very careful about who I talk to about what I’m going through. Also, please don’t try to fix me. I need to know that someone accepts me just the way I am, and if I feel like you see me as an improvement project, I’ll just feel rejected. Not every discussion I have has to be about my problems. Make an effort to get to know me. There’s more to me than my depression, though it may not look like it at times. And let me get to know you too. I sometimes feel like people deflect the conversation back to me because I’m the one that’s needy and needs fixed. One of the things that will help me, and I believe other depressed people, the most is taking the focus off of ourselves and our little world.
One last thing to keep in mind. Even if your friend shows some improvement and does well for awhile, it is likely that she will struggle again, maybe in a month or in a year. I know it is very tempting to think that this person is cured, so you don’t have to deal with her anymore, but it’s likely not true. So if you’re not in it for the long haul, don’t even bother. I’ve seen people lose interest in me as soon as they think I’m “better” and move on to the next project. Earn your points with Jesus somewhere else. I can’t take it.