They Want to Help
“WE EXHORT you, brothers, . . . speak consolingly to the depressed souls.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) With these words to the Thessalonian congregation, the apostle Paul showed that the Christian congregation is an important resource provided by God to support those who are depressed. Any Christian who feels overwhelmed by bad emotions can find comfort and help among his Christian brothers.
The disciple James recommended asking the appointed congregation elders for help. He said: “Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up.”—James 5:14, 15.
What if someone is reluctant to ask the elders for help? One woman who had a serious problem was, and she explains why: “In the back of my mind, I felt that the elders would not understand. They would consider it my fault.” But after a severe domestic crisis she was moved to go to them. What did she find? “The elders are not perfect. But they did understand.”
Remember, though, the apostle Paul encouraged the whole congregation to ‘comfort the depressed souls.’ The elders want to help. But the depressed ones can go to any mature person they feel comfortable with. Youths will likely go to their parents. Women may prefer to discuss things with experienced Christian sisters who are “teachers of what is good.” (Titus 2:3) The important thing is: TALK TO SOMEONE.
But what if a downhearted person comes to you for help? Or what if you take the initiative in trying to help such an individual? There are things you should remember.
Consolation and Fellow Feeling
Remember not to make quick judgments about the spirituality of depressed persons. Paul said that they need comfort. Hence, we do well to express toward them the qualities he spoke about in writing to the Philippians: “If, then, there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any sharing of spirit, if any tender affections and compassions, make my joy full in that you are of the same mind and have the same love.” (Philippians 2:1, 2) Encouragement, love, consolation, sharing of spirit, tender affection and compassion can have a wonderfully healing effect on a depressed person.
The apostle Peter added another fine quality. He said: “All of you be like-minded, showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate.” (1 Peter 3:8) Anyone who has “fellow feeling,” who can put himself in the other person’s place, win his trust and speak consolingly to him, has a fine gift for helping depressed souls.
But what if someone in the congregation suffers major depression? Suppose he suffers feelings of deep worthlessness, guilt, hopelessness or despair and nothing that anyone says seems to help? First, he should be advised to get medical advice, since major depression often has a physical cause.* But whatever professional help he seeks, there is still an important role for the congregation to play.
Members of the congregation should avoid criticizing the depressed one or telling him to ‘pull himself together,’ or ‘snap out of it.’ A man whose wife suffers depression said that she has been suicidal from time to time. Why? The husband admits that in part it was because of the lack of understanding that he and others expressed toward her.
Some have found it good to speak to the depressed ones about things they once knew but perhaps now find hard to believe because the depression has confused their mind. Speak of Jehovah, “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3) Remind the person that Jehovah is ready to forgive in “a large way.” (Isaiah 55:7) Talk about the beauties of Jehovah’s creation, and remind him of any pleasant experiences he might have had in this regard. Speak of the happy fellowship he has enjoyed in the congregation, of how much he loves his family and his family loves him. Stress that even though you cannot fully understand how bad he feels, the experience of others shows that it will get better. Be willing to listen with ‘brotherly affection and tender compassion’ to whatever he has to say, however illogical his emotional distress might make him.
If he should speak about suicide, take it seriously. And if he does not mention suicide, but you have reason to think it is on his mind, do not be afraid to bring the subject up. You may wish to say something like this: “I know you feel very bad right now, probably much worse than I will ever understand. You know, when people feel as bad as you do, sometimes they get the idea that the best thing would be just to end it all. Have you ever felt like that?” If he has, it will bring the whole subject out into the open and help relieve him of the guilt such thoughts bring.
‘Machine Not Working Right’
A doctor who is also a Christian elder reports: “Sometimes I use the analogy of a calculator. If the batteries get run down, no matter what numbers you punch in you will not get a reliable answer. So I tell someone suffering from major depression that his ‘batteries’ have run down temporarily. He is going to get some strange ideas and come to some weird conclusions. But that will only be while the disturbance is there. When the problem goes, things will be better.”
This same doctor adds: “It is not always what we say that matters when people are in this state. We try, as best we can as fellow Christians, to sympathize with them. The elders may be able to find someone who has had a lot of experience in life and have them sit down and talk with them, or just listen. Many times I have found that a depressed person got the most help from an elderly Christian sister who has suffered major depression herself. She may just sit down, pat the sufferer on the shoulder and say: ‘I know how you feel.’”
It Can Be Done
True, to the one suffering bad emotional feelings, it may seem like a huge effort to overcome them. And the last thing a depressed person may feel like doing is making any effort at all. But suicide is not the answer. One woman was depressed for a long period. She did not want to eat, could not sleep, had no energy, was nervous, tense and wanted to die. Now she writes: “Take courage. No matter how long you have been suffering and no matter what the problem is, Jehovah can and will help you. I’m proof of it.”—Philippians 4:13.
There is another thing we can do to help the depressed souls. We can pray on their behalf, following the thoughts of the apostle Paul: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and gave everlasting comfort and good hope by means of undeserved kindness, comfort your hearts and make you firm in every good deed and word.”—2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17.
For a more complete discussion of the causes and treatment of depression, see the articles “How You Can Fight Depression” and “Attacking Major Depression—Professional Treatments,” in our companion magazine, Awake!, (issues of September 8 and October 22, 1981). For further suggestions on how to help depressed ones, see the article “Speak Consolingly to the Depressed Souls” (The Watchtower, April 15, 1982) and “An Educated Tongue—‘To Encourage the Weary’” (The Watchtower, June 1, 1982).
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Is Someone You Know Thinking About Suicide?
He may be, if he is deeply depressed and also has symptoms such as the following:
● Talks or thinks about suicide.
● Loses interest in living, in family and friends.
● Is unable to sleep.
● Has no appetite.
● Has low sex desire.
● Is suddenly calm after a marked upset.
● Settles his affairs, changes his life-style or neglects himself personally.
● Becomes depressed when a relative or a friend dies or commits suicide.
● Has a serious physical illness.
● Loses his job or is separated from his family.
Based on a list that appeared in the magazine Medical Tribune.