The church and Christian community should foster an environment that promotes acceptance, healing and understanding in regards to mental illness. However, the current state of many Christian communities only promotes stigma and misconceptions about depression.
By not fully understanding how this disease works, many Christians make assumptions that end up hurting their brothers and sisters. Failing to react in a healthy way can ultimately lead those who are depressed away from the church and Christ, which only will be more detrimental to their mental state.
Instead of staying misinformed, arm yourself with the correct knowledge so that you can be there for someone who is truly suffering. Here are some things that you should never say to a depressed Christian, and what you should do instead.
"Confess your sins to God."
When one is depressed, they often try to find the source of it. Some Christians are quick to think that the reason they feel so low is because of the sins they committed, and by confessing to God they will automatically feel better. This ends up be a lengthy and judgmental process of analyzing every bad thing the person has done, which only furthers their anger towards themselves rather than relieve it. Getting rid of all ones sins is not the answer, because we are human and we will continue to make them over and over again. Everyone sins, but not everyone is depressed.
"Others have been through it worse."
When someone is sad and broken, others are quick to point out there is worse things in the world that they could be going through. They could be starving in poverty in a third-world country for example. This kind of comparison shows absolutely no empathy to the person who is depressed. They are already at rock bottom and most likely feel some guilt over feeling depressed because there are aspects in their life that are great. When we say that "it could be worse" we are telling the person that their feelings are invalid, that they are weak for not being able to get over their problems and it's their fault for being depressed. Instead, we have to understand why the person feels so hurt from what they are going through. Everyone experiences pain differently, so their pain is not comparable to others.
"You will get over it."
Similar to the last statement, saying that the person should just "snap out of it" leaves little room for empathy and understanding. It shows that you are uninterested in offering them help and do not want to listen further. Depression is not something you can just get over. Someone who is depressed can't simply say, "brain, it's time to be happy again". If someone could simply snap out of depression, why would anyone spend years suffering? It is not because the person has a lack of will power, so avoid this statement at all costs.
"You need this specific medication, therapy or treatment to be happy."
While most Christians offer the idea of therapy and medication in an effort to help, it must be done so in a way that doesn't make the depressed person feel attacked, scared, or alone. At the end of the day, you are not a professional and you do not know what it is like in the head of the depressed. You cannot say that if they just went to this specific therapist, or tried this type of antidepressant, then they would be better. Just because your aunt Susie responded positively to Lexapro doesn't mean this person will. Instead, encourage them to go talk to a professional and offer them support. Offer to help them look for different types of therapy styles and therapists so they can find the route that is right for them.
"God won't give you more than you can handle."
While no one is quite sure where this cliché was started, it's important to make clear that you can't find this statement anywhere in the Bible. All of God's children are going to encounter pain and suffering, but He doesn't say that He will limit how much we run into based on our ability to deal with it. When the depressed Christian hears this phrase, they feel that God has abandoned them. It makes them feel that God left them behind and is letting them drown. The better phrase to say in this situation is Romans 8:18, which says “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” This will not solve their depression, but can offer a glimmer of hope that things will get better.
"You should work on strengthening your faith."
Even Jesus, who had the perfect faith, struggled with feeling sadness, fear, and grief. In Luke 22:42, Jesus cried out to God when He felt overwhelmed. Emotions are incredibly important to human life, and no amount of faith will make negative emotions go away. Instead of thinking that faith will negate our negative emotions, we have to understand that despite our suffering, we should have faith. We are called to follow God during our times of struggle, despite our desire to turn away from Him. This is how our faith becomes stronger.
Taking time to understand what it means to be depressed is important for all Christians, even if you are not struggling with it personally. Arm yourself with knowledge about the disease so that when you do encounter someone who is suffering, you can offer them the support they so desperately need. God is still on their side, and through His love and guidance they will be able to come out of the darkness and see the light again. Let yourself be a tool that God can use to help them see that.