Support for the Depressed
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Churches can do a great deal for the depressed, but nothing at all for those who suffer/enjoy self-pity. Depression is a real and serious illness that requires treatment outlined in the last two editions of this blog. Self-pity is a power move by someone, often claiming depression or some mystery illness, but, in actuality, it is a "heart" disease that will lead to spiritual death.
Scene One: a party. Two or three dozen people of roughly the same age are talking, laughing, sharing some punch and snacks. A depressed woman (not to be sexist here, but depression strikes women more frequently than men) tries very hard to fit in; keeping up her bit of conversation, smiling or laughing at appropriate times. In the car on the way home, she feels small and alone. She cries herself to sleep. (alternatively, she is so depressed she doesn't come to the party at all)
Scene Two: a party. Two or three dozen people of roughly the same age are talking, laughing, sharing some punch and some snacks. Someone with self-pity notices that she isn't being noticed enough. She has no control over the crowd. Rather than trying to fit in, she finds a way to get noticed. She sits down on a couch in the center of the room and sighs heavily, looking mournful. She traps a couple of people in the kitchen and drops hints and rolls doleful eyes until they are forced to ask her if she is all right. She will say she is, but in a way that leaves no doubt that she is put-upon, burdened, a martyr in the making. On the way home, she will review her performance and critique how poor this or that person was in helping her. What terrible people! she'll think to herself.
If a church feeds a person's self-pity, they are helping her/him lose their soul. If a church FAILS to help and reach out to the depressed (when they know about the depression. Depressed people are often experts at hiding their illness) they are failing to be the community of Christ.
Depression is strange. It can be caused by the weather (Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, boys and girls. It isn't imaginary. Real chemical events are occurring in the brain and blood). It can be caused by situation, physical illness, or genetics. While churches are rarely equipped to directly treat depression, they can assign shepherds or members to watch and pray with the suffering individual. If possible, engage them in active ministry. It is amazing how often having a mission and sacrificing for others can bring a person into a happier place. Help them grow in ministry, prayer, and community and do not forget to encourage them to find professional treatment.
Those who use sinful coping mechanisms to deal with their depression, or those who use their self-pity as a club and lasso to keep others in line must be confronted -- in love -- by their community of faith. Every confrontation must be undertaken only after several people have agreed, after much prayer, that it is needed. Also -- and this is critical -- only confront someone if you are willing to stand beside them and help them make the painful, slow changes in their lives that are required to get them back on track. Confrontation shouldn't be fun. If it is fun, you are really just jumping on someone when they are down and -- just maybe -- you are a bullying jerk. So.... softly, softly. Reach out to each other in humility and tears with heartfelt and solemn promises of support and unconditional love.
For we are the community of faith, right? Be the church.