How to Help Those Struggling With Depression

We don’t have to cower in fear beneath the giant of depression.

“For forty days, every morning and evening, the Philistine champion strutted in front of the Israelite army. … As soon as the Israelite army saw him, they began to run away in fright.” —1 Samuel 17:16, 24

It’s such a simple Sunday School story. Even most people who don’t go to church know of the story of David and Goliath. In the book of 1 Samuel, we have one warrior who causes an entire army to hide in inaction. He shows himself twice a day and no one will confront the issue.

Enter a boy named David.

He shows up to battle. He sees an issue. And speaks up to address it. The response of those closest to him is, Why can’t you be silent like the rest of us? Go away (paraphrased from 1 Samuel 17:28–29).

A few weeks ago, I was standing in line at a grocery store and saw a People magazine cover highlighting the life and career of Robin Williams.

Everything we thought we knew about him came crashing down August 11, 2014, as the news came out of his suicide due to the internal hopelessness he lived with.

I published a blog post later that day, admitting publicly my personal battle with depression. I felt that I could no longer be like those in the armies of Israel quietly standing in the shadow of a menacing giant, hoping the issue would take care of itself or that someone else would deal with it.

But I was done being quiet. Often, I felt alone in my struggle and couldn’t bear that there was another person like Robin Williams out there experiencing the same thing that both he and I live with. And that passion for people was pushing through every fear that whispered to my heart:

If people know about your depression, they will not want you as their pastor.
Your board is going to ask for your resignation.
You’re going to be ostracized by other ministers.
What are your parents going to think about this? Good sons don’t do this to their parents.
Do you actually think your wife wants to be known as the spouse of a depressed husband?
This will embarrass your kids. Don’t put them through this.

Those were just some of the internal voices screaming at me to stay in silence. Then a few hours later, an external voice came my way that made me want to delete the whole blog and go back into emotional hiding.

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For a few years, I had been trying to get ahold of a very well-known minister to come to our church. He’s a legendary speaker. In terms of his reputation, any pastor would want him to preach to their congregation. The previous week, I’d left another message, and that evening, he finally called me back.

And after I said, “Hello,” his response was:

“Is this the ‘depressed pastor’? If I say the wrong thing, you’re not going to go hang yourself are you? Ha, ha, ha!”

I didn’t have a reply other than to be speechless. To me this was 1 Samuel 17, and Goliath was mocking me and making me want to hide with everyone else. After a few moments of silence (that felt like an eternity), thankfully, he began to backtrack his comments after realizing the issue was not to be taken lightly.

Please know, I hold no ill-will toward this gentleman. I know it was ignorance speaking. But nevertheless, it was a moment that has encouraged me all the more to keep beating the drum of awareness to those who do not understand emotional and mental darkness. And my challenge is to follow the example we have of this young would-be king in 1 Samuel 17.

He showed up to the battle.
He saw an issue.
He spoke up to address it.

1. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you do need to show up. Sometimes your presence with someone dealing with depression speaks more clearly than the most eloquent statement. Simply being present with someone hurting can be more impactful than offering an articulate prayer. Often I equip people with six words to say to those who are hurting internally:

I don’t know. I am here.

Don’t worry about your words as much as offering being present with them.

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2. See the issue. Depression must be seen as a legitimate issue to be taken seriously. Admitting this internal Goliath exists doesn’t give it more power, nor does ignoring the giant remove it. For those of us who battle with depression, we just want to know we’re not weird, crazy or so broken we have no chance for healing (because we feel that way).

Sometimes, encouragement comes from hearing from a trusted friend who shows up and can recognize the struggle.

Just because you don’t personally deal with it or understand it doesn’t make it less of an issue. We cannot afford to ignore it (or those dealing with it); lives are at stake. We cannot chalk depression up to an issue we can just “quote a Scripture and offer a token prayer for” (and I’m a huge proponent of the Bible and the power of prayer). Depression attacks on four levels: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual; which leads me to my last point.

3. Speak up. Be a voice of hope. I love David’s words in 1 Samuel 17:26:

“Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?”

Before David volunteers to deal with their enemy, he deals with their identity. He speaks into who they are. You are not an average army. You are the Lord’s; you belong to God. And it’s this type of voice we need echoing in the shadows. We need life-giving, heart-encouraging, hope-building words breathing life into those of us who cannot see any opportunity of victory.

Speak up. Tell those living in the giant’s shadow of the reality of the hope that can be realized in the Lord.

I do not belong to the darkness. And when the shadow begins to creep over me, I know who (and whose) I am and where my victory lies; and I think others should experience the same thing.

Hope has a name. And his name is Jesus. In the face of inner darkness, I say, “let there be light” (Gen. 1:3).