Walking with a Friend through the Valley of Depression

By Gwen Sellers

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Many of us have had friends in a state of depression. Many of us have been there ourselves. In either case, we can sometimes feel completely inept. Depression, whether clinically diagnosable or simply a period of feeling down in the dumps, is a difficult state to deal with. There are so many questions about what is or isn't the right thing to do with someone who is hurting.

If someone you love is experiencing depression, she may feel that life is pointless, that she has no capacity to handle what used to be the daily things of life, that no one understands or cares, that all is dark. She may imagine that she is in a swamp of quicksand, unable to move. Nothing is pleasurable anymore. Ultimately, she may believe that life is a lot of work that may not be worth it.

To you, she may seem moody and down all the time. She may not be the fun companion she once was. She may seem indecisive and lethargic. She might take offense easily. She might complain about life or seem unable to comprehend anything positive. She might be withdrawn and uninterested.

Being with people who are depressed is not the most appealing experience. So what are we supposed to do when a friend shows signs of depression? Should we abandon the friendship until she's better? Leave her alone since that's what she wants anyway? Or should we try to get her out and invite her to do things? Should we be happy all the time? Should we be happy around her at all? Should we just listen and never share what's going on in our lives for fear that it might upset her more? How can we avoid falling into depression ourselves while still walking with her through this valley?

All good questions. I wish I knew the answers.

The truth is there are no hard-and-fast rules for how to behave around a person struggling with depression. But, from having lived through mild depression myself, hearing others' experiences, learning about counseling, and looking at what the Bible has to say, I can offer a few suggestions that might be helpful. Please note that because I am female and most of my experience with depression has been with other females, these tips will be coming from that perspective.

Keep the friendship strong. It may not seem like much, but just being there can remind a person that she is worth something, that her life is at least valuable to you.

Encourage her, but don't try to solve all her problems. After establishing a trust relationship, trained counselors are allowed to challenge clients and say things that could potentially be hurtful. They can help clients learn to solve their own problems. People go to counselors expecting this type of treatment. Your job as a friend is to love—not to be a counselor. Friends are allowed to challenge and make suggestions too, but it works best when both friends are in a healthy state and such interaction has been invited. This is not the case when one is experiencing depression.

A depressive state can sometimes cause hyper-sensitivity. Sufferers already feel weak or guilty for having depression. Hearing your suggestions to just go for daily walks, or get in the sun, or eat better, or start a thankfulness journal, will likely add to feelings of worthlessness and self-judgment. Though these are great ideas that do help with depression, they can come across as shallow. The friend who thinks the troubles of depression will be solved by a 15-minute walk is not really hearing the heart and the pain. A counselor who mentions using this for symptom reduction while also addressing the deeper issues, on the other hand, has a better chance of positive reception.

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Walking with a Friend through the Valley
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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Published 5-24-13