“Speak Consolingly to the Depressed Souls”
“IN THE beginning I felt low, and this mood lingered. I didn’t feel like going anywhere or doing anything, nor could I concentrate. I became despondent, confused, and began to think that my entire life and my good record of service to God was not worth anything. I grew panicky and frightened.” Thus a 48-year-old Witness who had spent many years as a missionary described her feelings. “I had always been healthy physically and spiritually, but then I suddenly felt that I would never feel good again.”
A mature brother also reports: “I became very depressed because of my job. I would come home from work so despondent that I could not eat. I would leave the table and go into a private room and cry—I just could not stop the tears. I was easily angered by others. I kept thinking, ‘Where am I headed? Why is this happening to me?’ It continued for six months.”
These persons suffered from major depression. Other reports tell that there are still “depressed souls” among God’s people. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Statistics for the world indicate a striking increase in depressed persons. Though persons with a relationship with God are often less affected by the situations inducing depression, they are by no means immune to this disorder. But should such faithful servants be so plagued?
“I Am Depressed Exceedingly”
Loyal King David of Jerusalem was a victim of depression. As a result of some errors or foolishness on his part, he wrote: “I am depressed exceedingly; I go mourning all day long.” (Psalm 38:6, DeWitt) The box on the next page shows how a number of faithful servants have felt at times, and why. However, all those listed in the box overcame their distress. According to the Bible record, they all continued serving God faithfully.
There are many reasons why persons get depressed. Over some of these the sufferer has little control. Recent medical research has indicated that some types of severe depression are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that may be the result of a number of physical causes.* At the same time our thoughts alone can bring on depression. One Bible example is revealing.
Epaphroditus, a zealous helper of the imprisoned apostle Paul, suffered depression. Paul sent this servant back from Rome to his former congregation in Philippi, and perhaps by means of him dispatched a letter stating among other things, “[Epaphroditus] is depressed because you heard he had fallen sick.” True, he had been sick, but now was well—yet depressed. What caused the depression? He realized that the congregation “heard he had fallen sick.” Why would this depress him?—Philippians 2:25-30.
This devoted servant was evidently very sensitive to others’ feelings. He was very concerned about the worry of his dear brothers and sisters in his home congregation over the report of his ill health. It seems that the anxiety of wanting to set their minds at ease—but hopelessly separated by hundreds of miles—brought on the depression. The same could happen today, even to those who, like Epaphroditus, wholly exert themselves in the Lord’s work. Intense worry and concern over others’ feelings, or perhaps a feeling of letting others down, can produce depression.
But how can others help those who are depressed?
One depressed Christian tearfully pleaded with her husband: “What am I going to do? I just can’t go on like this!” The husband who was an unbeliever retorted: “You’re just going to have to stand it!” So crushed was this woman that the next day she almost committed suicide! How important that all heed the Bible’s command: “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls.” Sometimes irreparable damage can result if one does not. Yet often a person may want to cheer up a depressed soul but not know what to say.—1 Thessalonians 5:14.
In his second letter to the Corinthian Christians, Paul indicates that he ‘felt low,’ for he had “fears within.” A good report comforted him. Titus brought word of the Corinthian congregation’s improved spiritual condition and of their “zeal” or concern for Paul, their “longing” for him. Hearing of their love for him cheered Paul up. (2 Corinthians 7:5-7) The same is true today. One Christian woman who suffered a crippling depression stated: “Most of all you need to know that others care about you as a person. You need to hear someone say, ‘I understand; you’ll be all right soon. I appreciate your experience and I like talking with you.’”
“I Learned Empathy”
“One lesson I’ll never forget,” admitted one Christian mother who suffered with depression. “I learned empathy. Before, I used to think that all you had to do was to pump yourself up and get going, so I never had much fellow feeling for others who were sick. Now I know. When some of the friends told me to ‘snap out of it,’ there wasn’t anything that I wanted to do more, but at that point I had no control. Their comments really hurt.” Depressed persons need “fellow feeling” extended to them from others.—1 Peter 3:8.
How can family and friends help? A 40-year-old previously depressed mother reflected: “You not only feel terrible physically and emotionally, but also feel guilty because you’re not doing for your family what you normally would.” So she advised: “Let the depressed person know you realize he’s doing his best. Encourage him to keep on.”
While upbuilding words are needed and are appreciated, those desiring to help may be able to offer more assistance.
Support the Weak
Paul urged the Thessalonian congregation not only to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls,” but also to “support the weak, be long-suffering toward all.” The term “support” involves deeds, for the original Greek word* has the primary sense of keeping oneself directly opposite to another so as to sustain him.—1 Thessalonians 5:14.
The report of a study of over 500 persons concluded: “More than heart, strong will, and a cheerful disposition, people may need close, supportive friends and families to ward off depression.” Dr. L. Cammer, a well-known psychiatrist, stated in agreement: “It is vital that the depressed person have someone around who won’t start lecturing, who will stay patient.” Yes, a positive effort to help, such as by a telephone call or a short visit, may be deeply appreciated.
One Christian woman was asked what form of treatment helped her the most. She responded: “The greatest one was being around my spiritual brothers and sisters. Otherwise, I would not have recovered. In our congregation of Witnesses there was love, concern and understanding. It was like a wall of protection.”
Of course, there is a need at times to be affectionately firm in helping a depressed person, since his thinking may be confused. He may need some gentle urgings to take a walk with you, to engage in some other form of exercise, to take his medication, or to continue in his spiritual activities.
When a person is hospitalized because of a physical illness, often he is fed a number of small meals rather than a few large ones. The same may be necessary when helping a depressed one with spiritual food. It may take real patience on the part of a mate or a concerned friend to discuss spiritual ‘good things’ briefly on various occasions, rather than to try to have a long Bible discussion, which may overtax the depressed one. Even when the ailing one does not respond to the instruction, the love shown him makes an impact.
Until the disorder runs its course or responds to medical treatment, continued patience and understanding are necessary on the part of others. At times there are situations where no form of medical treatment seems to work. So long-suffering along with self-sacrificing love is needed to aid these ailing ones until Jehovah heals all sicknesses—mental and physical—in the upcoming new order.—Revelation 21:3, 4.
Elders in a congregation have a special responsibility. The article “An Educated Tongue—’To Encourage the Weary,’” which deals with this aspect, will be published in a forthcoming issue.
See the article “Is It All in the Mind?” in our companion magazine Awake! of September 8, 1981.
Antekhesthe—“be you holding yourselves against.”
[Box on page 15]
HOW THEY FELT WHY
JOB ‘God has abandoned me,’ Sickness and personal
‘I feel a hatred toward my misfortunes. It
had forsaken him.
JACOB Refused to be comforted. Grief over apparent
“Continued weeping.” ‘I death of son
want to go into the
HANNAH ‘Wept and did not eat.’ Bitter disappointment
‘Bitter of soul and wept over having no son
JONAH “My dying off is better Bottled-up anger
than my being alive.” In
a “calamitous state.”
DAVID “All day long I have walked Guilt over serious
about sad.” “I have grown error
numb.” “My power has left
NEHEMIAH “Began to weep and mourn for Disturbed over
days,” had “gloominess of condition of some of
PAUL Had “fears within” and Opposition and lack
felt “laid low.” of rest