Support follows sympathy.

  • It involves being available to listen and talk either in person or at the end of a phone.
  • It includes praying with the person, especially as the depressed person may find it impossible to put words and sentences together in prayer.
  • It means unconditional love, love that is maintained even when you do not agree with every decision your loved one is making and even when that loved one may unjustly turn on you.
  • It requires practical help such as babysitting to enable a young mother to get a few free hours each week or such as taking an elderly person out for a drive to give him a refreshing change of scenery.

You will need wisdom to recognize when the help you are providing is not enough and the depressed person needs expert support from other caring professions. The benefits of such supportive friendship cannot be overestimated:

The presence, the availability, just the existence of a friend like this provides a tremendous degree of comfort to the depressed person, as it demonstrates in physical terms how much he is cared for,accepted, loved, as he is, warts and all. It is not difficult for the depressed person to go on to realise that if individual Christians can love him that much, how much more will God do the same….Unconditional friendship is the key, as is loyalty. The real friends are the ones who can accept the depressed person as he is—on good days, bad days, sad days, frightened days and angry days. Friends like this don’t put pressure on in any way, but allow the sufferer to be himself, however horrid that may seem to be. As one of my depressed friends said, “It’s a relief not to have to put on a disguise.” (A Practical Workbook for the Depressed Christian, 338).

On a congregational level, pastors and office bearers should encourage a supportive atmosphere:

For our churches to be really effective in supporting those with mental health difficulties, we need to establish a culture where everyone in the local church knows that it is acceptable to have problems from time to time, and that the church as a whole—and especially its leadership—is there to support church members during these times as well as in times of success (I’m not supposed to feel like this, 236).

The church should be especially aware of the need to support the supporters. To be an effective  support to depressed loved-ones is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually demanding. As Christians we need to be conscious of the need not only to support depressed people but also to minister to the needs of their nearest and dearest.

Edited extract from Christians get depressed too. Available at RHB and Ligonier. Kindle version here.