Yesterday, I wrote about some of my issues with depression. I am currently in something of a downer and all seems a bit bleak. Usually, straight after writing something like that, people immediately want to know what, exactly, can they do to help. So, here are some things.
Acknowledge that things just suck
Sometimes, there is no clear and obvious fix to a problem. Sometimes, things just are, and the way they are is less than excellent. Sometimes, it help – even just a little bit – for people to just acknowledge that reality. When things feel terrible, it doesn’t tend to help when people list all the reasons why there is no need to feel that bad (often, for depressed people, that very fact is already making them feel guilty because they are well aware of it!) But acknowledging that the feelings that seem so awful to the depressed person really are awful can be helpful. Just acknowledging that what feels bad really is bad can have a helpful effect on the mind.
It might seem trite, it might seem like a Christian platitude, but it doesn’t really matter. God works through the prayers of his people. Frankly, it often feels like it will take a miracle for things to get better so praying is good. Telling us that you are praying for us (and actually meaning it) is genuinely helpful.
If, like me, you get all theologically het up that you might be praying prosperity prayers, make them more gospel-centric. Pray that your pastor would glorify God in the midst of his suffering and that he might be made well so that he can be more useful in the work of the kingdom. Pray for his restoration so that he might serve in the work of the gospel helpfully again.
Don’t keep asking, ‘how are you?’
This might seem paradoxical, but it is genuinely very unhelpful. Most people just want you to know that they care, and so they ask. But this is so often heard as any (or all) of the following: ‘are you still ill?’, ‘why aren’t you better yet?’ and ‘you look fine to me!’ Not only do depressed people frequently hear things through a negative filter, but you probably won’t be the first or only person to ask this question either. The drip-drip of continually being asked ‘how are you?’ tends to make people feel worse, inducing guilt that they don’t yet feel better and the pressure of an assumed expectation that you probably should be by now.
Offer practical solutions to reduce anxieties
Naturally, you aren’t going to be able to actually rid the person of their anxiety – you are not the human embodiment of Lithium (other medications are available). And asking people, ‘what can I do to help?’ is generally unhelpful (frankly, not just for depressives, but in lots of cases) because it just adds another thing for the person to worry about and increases their burden as they now need to find things for you to do that should help (and, if they don’t, feel guilty that their own suggestions didn’t work!)
Instead, try offering specific and practical help. If your pastor is struggling with reading, maybe don’t fling books at them to read. If they are finding concentrating on words difficult, offer to take some preaching off their hands. If they are finding pastoral situations particularly anxiety-inducing, minimally, tell them that you don’t expect them to do any right now but – better yet – offer to do some for them. Find out what the specific pressure points are that induce anxiety and offer to relieve them.
Give them room to be away from crowds
I know it is generally seen as poor show for your pastor not to be the last one out the building. After all, they are there to care for the flock and ought to know what is going on with them. That necessarily means hanging around and hearing all about it.
But crowds can be difficult and draining places at the best of time, and all the more so when you are unwell. And it doesn’t take a genius to see how, being depressed, listening at length to other people’s problems can be an especially difficult thing to do without it impacting one’s own mind.
Naturally, some of those things may still need to be done. But give your pastor the grace to leave crowded places early. Don’t insist that he is the one to stay behind, listening to all the issues and locking up behind himself when he’s done. Try to share the burden of burden-bearing.