Ways to Support Families Dealing with Depression
The symptoms of depression are so common they almost stand too close for comfort. After all, everyone experiences "highs" and “lows.” Emotions are a natural and integral part of our daily lives. They shape our thoughts, relationships and activities in our daily fives.
Offer spiritual support to those affected. Encourage people to look beyond the person's symptoms to see the child of God who needs love and a sense of community.
The distinguishing point of depression is in its depth, duration and clinical nature. It can happen at all ages and in every life stage (including childhood). It affects people of every economic and social class. It is, not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. It is usually triggered by a sudden or stressful event that sets off a complex brain condition that affects the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of a person's life.
Depression can be temporarily severe (acute) or prolonged (chronic). It may sometimes be brought on by a change of seasons or particular medications. It is not something people can just 'snap out of.' Because it can linger for long periods, it can become wearisome to family and friends, which leaves the depressed person feeling even more isolated, guilty and discouraged.
Here are some ways you can support and minister to people who are affected by depression in your congregation:
- Begin a column in your newsletter to help people understand the facts about depression, or post information on your bulletin board, to increase the level of comfort for reaching out to those affected.
- Offer spiritual support to those affected. Encourage people to look beyond the person's symptoms to see the child of God who needs love and a sense of community. It's important to let them know that God loves them regardless of their current feelings or challenges.
- Provide referrals to mental health professionals when appropriate. Partner with schools and local agencies to promote the availability of counseling and support groups. Consider allowing groups to meet at your church.
- If you suspect someone is struggling with depression, encourage treatment as well as relational support. Suggest the person talk to a physician. Nearly 80 percent of those suffering from depression wait for it to pass without realizing that it can be treated.
- Stay in touch with the entire family and offer practical support. Send a card, phone or e-mail, arrange for meal deliveries, help with shopping & provide transportation or respite care. Consider setting up a 'Share and Care' center or Stephen Ministry program to coordinate care- giving and prayer support.
- Encourage involvement in worship and church activities and help provide the companionship and support to help them attend,
- Use occasions such as the Mental Illness Awareness Week in October and the National Mental Health Month in May to raise awareness and sensitivity. Invite a speaker from a local mental health or social service agency to address an adult forum or youth group.
This article was published in Seeds for the Parish
, a bimonthly resource paper for leaders of ELCA congregations.