We live in a world of pain, anguish, and torment, even though we only get glimpses of it—unless perhaps we work as a counselor or in emergency services. All around us are people in silent pain because of something in their nagging past, their anguishing present, or their dreaded future.
Depression is no respecter of persons. Even one’s philosophical or religious views don’t seem to offer either immunity or susceptibility. Neither can depression be blamed on the modern technological age.
Novelist William Stryon (1925–2006) called depression “a dreadful and raging disease” and likened it to “a veritable howling tempest in the brain.” He gives a conservative estimate that one in 10 Americans will suffer from it. Nobody is safe from depression—not even from “major depressive disorder,” the diagnosis I saw on my paperwork.
What I Have Discovered
I’m sure my feelings weren’t like those of every depressed person, but I know they weren’t unique. Fortunately, depression usually doesn’t strike with full force overnight. It creeps on gradually. That could be bad, like the frog in the pot, slowly heating until it’s too late. But if we’ll face the truth about how we feel and have the courage to talk to someone knowledgeable whom we trust, we can begin to deal with the feelings constructively.
All around us are people in silent pain because of something in their nagging past, their anguishing present, or their dreaded future.
Just as our bodies need food, water, and air to survive, in order to thrive our souls need the intake of God’s Word, the output of prayer to him, and some open and positive relationships in the context of a healthy church. Without all three elements, our lives will be handicapped and stifled.
A bright red flag, of course, is any kind of thought of self-loathing that death would be better than life—better either for you or for someone else. Those thoughts signal that you need help immediately, from a professional counselor who can prescribe medication if it’s called for. Medication can help pull you away from the edge and enable you both to think more clearly and to listen to those trying to help you. You may need it long term to overcome a chemical imbalance, or you may only need it temporarily.
Suicide isn’t the only danger for the depressed person, though. Depression can become a poison that distorts your perception of life and leads to bad decisions, such as self-medicating, perhaps with alcohol and drugs or with other things such as sex, food, or reckless behavior—whatever you feel might numb the pain, though it eventually just makes the pain worse. Sometimes depressed people hurt so much emotionally that they try to hurt themselves physically, perhaps thinking that pain will overpower the other, or perhaps thinking they deserve it. In some cases, it might be “only a cry for help,” but it always signals pain and must be responded to. Emotional pain, no less then physical pain, can become so excruciating that many people will do anything to stop it.
I began pinching myself, pulling my hair, beating my head against a wall, then cutting myself with a razor. I know someone who would hit herself with a baseball bat. Any such thoughts or behavior is a sign that your emotional pain and your perception of the world is out of control, and that you’ve got to get help from someone trained in dealing with depression.
How do you recognize someone like that, someone in danger who needs compassion and help? We must talk to people, we must ask questions, and we must listen carefully—not interrupting, not giving unsolicited advice, not telling them about someone else we know like them. We must be trustworthy listeners, able to keep confidences, unless they tell us about plans to harm themselves or others.
Lifejacket of Friends
I was desperate for someone who cared enough to ask questions and let me talk about what was going on and how I felt—not just once or a few times, but over a long period of time, as long as it took. About 20 years ago I knew I needed such a friend, so I asked a man at church to begin meeting with me regularly for prayer. I didn’t know him well, but I’d had enough contact with him to feel he could become a good friend. I was right. Eventually he asked if he could bring a couple other guys, and the four of us plus a later guy have been meeting almost every Saturday morning for all these years. We eat, we talk, we read and discuss Scripture, and we pray. God threw those guys to me like a lifejacket.
To detect someone especially in danger, we must talk to people, we must ask questions, and we must listen carefully.
If you’ve received God’s grace in Christ—if you’ve found forgiveness and acceptance with him at the cross, if you’re growing in your relationship with Jesus through Scripture and daily prayer, if you have some honest relationships with others—you’re qualified to provide help to depressed people. Or at least, to encourage and guide them to a professional, and then to offer support and hope. Again, you just have to care enough to talk to them, listen to them, ask questions, and give them some of your time.
My experience with depression did much more than teach me to enjoy and appreciate relationships with other people in Christ’s family. The most important thing it did was introduce me to a daily, growing, nurturing relationship with Jesus that is more satisfying than I’d ever experienced. Daily prayer and Bible reading became no longer an obligation, duty, or even just an instrument of life and growth. It became a delight. It became a time for me to sit at Jesus’s feet—to listen to him, talk with him, and receive his nourishment and guidance.
I’m not a trained behavioral healthcare worker of any sort; I’m only the recipient of lots of healthcare. But if I can answer any questions you might have about all this, I’d love to. If you’ll permit me, I’d love to listen to your story and encourage you in any way I can. If not me, then someone else. But whether you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of depression, open your life to someone and begin the journey into the light.