One of the things I have learned as a pastor over twenty eight years, is that many people do not understand depression, whether it is brought on by the circumstances of life, or whether it is biological in nature, or a combination of both. Many years ago in a Bible study, I was part of a conversation when the subject turned to depression. There was a young woman in the group who had been battling clinical depression for some time. She had spoken to me on several occasions about her struggles. As we talked about it in our group, someone finally spoke up and said, "Well, I don't know why depressed people just can't get over it. Everybody has problems!" I glanced quickly over at the individual who suffered so; she was just staring at the floor.
Of course, people just don't get over being depressed, and we can unintentionally make things worse with our happy talk, which I am not suggesting we should abandon; we just need to be conscious that our words of joy and hope are not received in the way we desire by those who are currently seeing life through a world of despair. The biology of depression is no different from the biology of high cholesterol or the biology of high blood pressure, but few people see the brain as an organ in the same way as they understand the heart or the liver. Thus, some believe that clinical depression is more of a willful unwillingness to put mind over matter, than an inability to shake off the blues because of a chemical imbalance in the brain that is physiological in nature.
What can persons do to be in ministry to those who are depressed?
First, we need need to assist those not suffering such melancholy in understanding what is actually going on in reference to clinical depression. We should do our best to educate people in the reality of clinical depression, so that they will hopefully abandon the myth that depression is something that someone can just "get over."
Second, we need to be available to speak with those suffering from depression and to be in relationship with them. Many who are so suffering will value having a caring and confidential relationship with a friend. This conversation is not a therapy session. Let's leave that to the professionals. Rather, it is simply being a friend and offering a listening ear to someone in need.
Third, we should not hesitate to suggest the person seek professional help. When I have been unable to persuade a depressed individual to see a counselor, I ask him or her, at the very least, to make an appointment with the family physician in order to tell her or him what is happening.
Fourth, remember that the holiday season is the time of the year when people can suffer the most emotionally. There are people who are depressed (though not clinically) because they are facing the holidays without the beloved spouse or child or parent. Do not let the busyness of the holiday season get in the way of visiting them, or at the very least, calling on the phone.Your gesture of concern will be appreciated.
Fifth, do not forget to offer special prayers for individuals in such situations at this time of the year. Offer them up to God that in surrounding these individuals with God's grace, in the hope that they appreciate the profound meaning of the holiday season, not only for them, but for those whom they love and see no more this side of eternity.