As many of you know, I’ve been depressed for almost five years now. I had a major break in March of 2010. It came out of nowhere and has been a frequent uninvited guest in my home ever since. And in that time, I’ve learned a few things about what you should never say to a depressed Christian.
I won’t go into it now, but almost seven weeks ago I came out of the depression. I think I know the triggers. But I often tell people not to get too excited. I can never be sure which “me” is going to wake up tomorrow. Will it be joyful me (whom I love)? He’s the one who sees life positively and has no time for worry (too busy serving God). Or will it be broken me (whom I hate)? He can’t dwell on anything but the bad and sees no hope in life (and doesn’t even act like there’s a God). But while I have my thoughts straight, I’ve been able to dwell on so many positive things. One of these is the subject of this post.
I’ve accumulated a list of seven things to never say to a depressed Christian.
They’re meant to help them out of their depression. I’ve even had these things said to me. But these things are wrong.
Please Note: None of these things necessarily come from evil intentions. These come from people who sincerely want you to recover. However, they do come from the evil flesh that dwells in all of us: judgmentalism. I hope this becomes clear as you read.
Further Reading: Dealing With My Depression #1: Muffling Its Voice
1. Never Say This to a Depressed Christian: “Just Snap Out of It”
I don’t know how many times I said this to my depressed sister before she took her life. “Just snap out of it, Angie.” From my perspective, I thought you could. I thought that being depressed or happy was an act of the will. If you just make the right decision, you can think your way out of it. But more often than not, depression is not an act of the will. It is an interplay between the mind and the brain that you can’t snap out of. Don’t you think that people who are depressed would “just snap out of it” if it were that easy? Remember, they don’t want to be depressed. It is the worst torture that one can possibly imagine.
2. Never Say This to a Depressed Christian: “Think Positively”
Again, this might seem right. Please realize that most of the time a depressed person can’t think positively. That’s why they’re depressed. If I were to tell you there’s a giant elephant in your room, would you believe me? What if I said that all you have to do is close your eyes and trust it to be true? You’d probably say, “I can’t!” Telling someone who’s depressed to “think positively” completely misses the problem. They can’t think positively any more than you can believe there’s an elephant in the room. They don’t want to think negatively. They just can’t stop.
Further Reading: Depression—When We Want to Die
3. Never Say This to a Depressed Christian: “Confess Your Sins”
Trying to find a sin trigger in the life of the depressed is a hard proposition. There may be some evident sin in their lives that they need to deal with, but consider this:
1) Everyone Sins, but Not Everyone’s Depressed. There is evil in everyone. According to Martin Luther, we’re all simul justus et peccator, which is Latin for “at the same time just and sinners.” Additionally, according to the Gospel of John, we have to admit to sin in our lives:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. —1 John 1:8 (ESV)
All too often, a lengthy (and often judgmental) assessment of every sin the depressed person has takes place. Once they’re identified, they’ll try to get rid of them one by one. This is both impossible and can cause deeper depression. The depressed may believe you and think getting rid of all these sins is the answer. When they realize that this cannot happen this side of heaven, the depression deepens.
2) They Can’t Change the Past. Sometimes the sins that led to depression are from years of lifestyle choices. They build up over the years. It’s usually the little ones that end up getting us. However, bringing this to the conversation with the depressed does little good. They can’t back up and change their choices. If they could, they would.
3) They Already Know They’re Sinners. The depressed person likely knows if it’s sin that’s causing their depression. If it’s alcohol, drugs, etc., bringing this up early will only harden the person. It will make them defensive. If sin is causing the depression (and that’s a big “if”) tact and prudence should be used in abundance. This will allow them to recognize their sin without becoming defensive.
4. Never Say This to a Depressed Christian: “Get on Some Meds Immediately!”
I am no Tom Cruise. I believe that psychiatric medications are often the answer and are a gift of God. I believe that there are many out there who are not taking meds due to a taboo or stigma attached to them that should be. However, the use of mind altering drugs also needs to be considered very deeply. I also think that they are prescribed too easily without a plan of attack.
Briefly, I believe that some people need to go through the darkness without an immediate way out. Many of the Psalms might not have been written had these drugs been available to David. His ups and downs would have been leveled by a script from the doctor. But we needed David to go through his mental bipolar disorder (if that is what it was). The same might be said of Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation. He definitely needed to be on something! However, God used his mental anxiety for great things.
Book Suggestion: Genius, Grief & Grace: A Doctor Looks at Suffering & Success (Biography of great saints of the past who suffered greatly, but were used greatly.)
For some people—as hard as it is to hear—God wants you to go through this darkness. But this is not for everyone. These drugs are a blessing of God when used properly. For some, they can get you over the “hill” of darkness and are only needed for a short time. For others, they are needed permanently for the stability of the mind.
All I am doing is asking you to consider that the depressed person may be a David or a Luther to the church. Don’t immediately demand that they get on these drugs.