How To Help Someone Who Is Depressed: An LDS Perspective

[ 29 ] Comments

by RI Editors

This guest essay in our Peculiar Minds series is by Sarah Hancock.

Newtown Mission 150th AnniversaryLast Sunday I was sitting in the chapel waiting for the meeting to start when a sister behind me tapped on my back.

“I know this sister who’s having problems with depression and I think you should talk to her. I don’t know what to do.”

I told her I was more than willing to talk. However, as I sat through sacrament meeting, I began to wonder what made me more qualified? Was it because I’d experienced depression? Was it because I was open about my experiences with depression? Was it because this kind-hearted sister honestly had no idea how to help her friend?  I had a feeling it was the latter and for that reason, I’ve really wanted to help people who have never experienced depression know how to better serve those who do.

Just for clarification purposes, I’ll refer to the medical definition of a Major Depressive Episode. (This clarification is not meant to diagnose; if you or a loved one struggles with depression, talk to your doctor.) Depression is when a person has five or more of the following symptoms: depressed mood for most of the day, loss of interest in things once found interesting, significant body weight changes (gaining or losing), problems getting to or staying asleep, feeling restless or slowed down, loss of energy/fatigue, irritable, feeling worthless or inappropriately guilty daily, lower ability to concentrate, difficulty making decisions nearly everyday, and recurrent thoughts of death. A person officially has depression when he or she has at least five symptoms lasting more than two weeks (DSM-IV-TR, p. 356). It is interesting to note that a person doesn’t have to have a depressed mood; they just have to have five or more of the symptoms.

It’s vital to understand there is a difference between depression and godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7). Depression has nothing to do with the godly sorrow associated with sin. People who have repented of past sins can relieve themselves of the godly sorrow. A person who has depression has a brain with a biological chemical imbalance which effects brain activity (See PET scan from the Mayo Clinic).

Depression is difficult to understand for those who’ve never experienced it. It’s like trying to explain a fresh strawberry’s taste to someone who’s never had one. Sweet . . . like chocolate? Tart . . . like a lime? Little seeds . . . like grapes? Soft . . . like cream cheese? It’s sweet and sour at the same time . . . like Chinese food? A strawberry lover can’t imagine life without strawberries, leaving the person void of strawberry experience puzzled and confused by the description. The reality is that one in ten adults in America has depression.

One thing you can do to help is to talk about it. This can be scary; however, talking about depression can help everyone involved feel more comfortable because you can “understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22). Both are edified because they can learn from one another. The person with depression will rejoice because he or she no longer feels alone in the fight while the person without depression will rejoice because he or she will no longer stand on the sidelines feeling helpless.

Another thing you can do to help is to understand the spiritual conundrum involved. Having depression is difficult as a member of the Church because we believe “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). People with depression often wonder why, if they are keeping the commandments, essentially partaking of the fruit described in Lehi’s dream (1 Ne 8:10), they still feel depressed? At times people who struggle with depression feel confused because the Lord promises us that if we keep the commandments we will be “blessed and happy” (Mosiah 2:41).  Questioning a person’s worthiness isn’t the responsibility of anyone other than our Savior. This is a vital thing to remember for the person with and without depression.

So why is the person depressed? It is a biological imbalance.

One way you can help is to realize depressive symptoms are real. As children of our Heavenly Father, seeking to and alleviating the heavy burdens caused by depression is our responsibility. Why is it our responsibility? I think our prophet Spencer W. Kimball summed it up nicely when he stated, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom” (Ensign, Dec. 1974, p. 5).

It’s important to realize we’re all differently equipped to help people with depression. Perhaps you are a friend, a person who serves others in a leadership capacity, or a community leader who knows legislation about healthcare. No matter who you are, there’s something you are uniquely qualified to do to lift the burdens of those around you. Maybe you can find some community resources for them. Perhaps you have the capacity to babysit so that a parent can get the sleep required for her medication to work. Maybe you can have your children draw a picture for his refrigerator. Maybe you can go to the person’s house and do a couple loads of wash or their dishes. (You’re welcome anytime at my house. 😉 Maybe it’s as simple as letting them know you are thinking about them and put their names on the temple prayer roll. Maybe you can drop a note in the mail and let this person know you love him or her but feel awkward because you don’t know how to help. Ask them what you can do to better understand.

You can help in so many ways! No two people experience depression the same. For that reason, a person who needs your support can be buoyed up in a variety of different ways. Whatever it is, there is something you can do. Get to know your loved one and find out how you can specifically meet their needs. It’s easier than you suspect.

Sarah Profile PictureSarah Hancock graduates from San Diego State University’s Rehabilitation Counseling Master’s Program in May with a Psychiatric Rehabilitation certificate. Sarah is a returned missionary and graduate of BYU. She and her husband have four teenage children. Her mental health column, Pebbles, Potholes and Perspective, is published bi-monthly in The Nauvoo Times.


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29 Responses to How To Help Someone Who Is Depressed: An LDS Perspective

  1. Sundy DeGooyer says:

    Wow! I concur! Education about this subject rocks!

  2. Cort says:

    Thank you so very much for this article, particularly this statement:
    “Questioning a person’s worthiness isn’t the responsibility of anyone other than our Savior.”

    I think it is vitally important that we love one another through our trials and refrain from judging them.

    When I was struggling with PPD, I confided in a friend and she immediately asked me about my prayer habits, scripture study and overall righteousness. This hurt me so deeply. Afterward, I refrained from confiding in others and did not seek help for the PPD. Over time, I was able to confide in a select few people and now that we’re seven years removed from it I can speak more openly about it. But when I was in the thick of it, I really needed someone to talk to without fear of judgement.

    I hope we can all love and support one another and in doing so, remove the stigma of depression so that those who need it can find help.

    • Sarah Hancock says:

      Thanks Court for sharing your experience. Unfortunately, I’ve had many like it too. People trying to be helpful and unknowingly hurting instead. 🙁

  3. Roz Johnson says:

    I love this article. Thank you so much for sharing. I have had similar issues with people simply saying, “Oh you should pray more or fast more or simply give it to God”. Its ironic that one of the only people that suggested I get counseling was outside of my church.

    • Sarah Hancock says:

      Thanks for your feedback Roz! Wow, your experience truly is ironic. I hope you were able to get the help you needed. 😉 -SPH

  4. Sarah,

    You are great! I just love you! I really enjoy reading your articles, thanks for posting them!

  5. Sherri says:

    I have suffered from depression since childhood. When you brought up “godly sorrow” as a comparison associated with sin, I wanted to mention that when I am depressed I FEEL godly sorrow. When I’m going through a depressive “episode”, the thoughts spoken in my mind over and over again to my Father in Heaven are, “I’m sorry” and “I know you can’t help me”. When I’m that low, I don’t feel worthy to receive help.
    I can understand people not wanting to share their plight with depression. My husband is a Type 1 diabetic and when I’m struggling with depression and murmur because I hate that I have to take medication to help me be close to “normal” he brings up that he needs insulin to live. And then I go on to point out that it’s not the same. Like you mentioned in your post, others who don’t deal with depression usually don’t know how to help those who do. It would be so much easier for me to tell my good friend and neighbor that I had had a low blood sugar reaction that day which caused me to yell at my kids, where I couldn’t accomplish anything and stayed in bed all day. But if it’s depression that had caused those same actions, I wouldn’t dare share that with that same person.
    I have 2 brothers who committed suicide, at ages 17 and 21. I can’t tell you how hard it has been to live with that notion over the years, especially when I know I’ve had the same thoughts they had before they ended their lives. I do know, though, that Heavenly Father is aware of what we go through and I appreciate people like you who stick up for us and sometimes I consider myself an expert just because of what I’ve dealt with over the years.

    • Sarah Hancock says:

      Sherri, you are an expert! You have lived experiece with depression and that counts for more than book knowledge in sooo many ways! When I started my program for rehabilitation counseling, many students came to me privately asking me how I understood all of it so well. They wanted to know where I’d worked and where I got my undergrad. I just smiled and told them I got my undergrad in life! You would be amazed at how much you can help people like us by simply sharing your experiences. There are so many people who struggle to fight the good fight–so many who simply need someone to tell them that they aren’t alone. We are not alone. No one is alone!

  6. Thank you so much for writing this post, Sarah. I am one who has never experienced depression but have wanted to know how to help others, especially a couple of family members and friends who do have depression. What do I do, though, when I offer help – in watching kids or knowing they just need to talk – but am turned down because “you can never understand what I’m going through so stop trying to help?” I don’t get the same reaction when offering to help after a broken bone or other medical issue which I haven’t experienced either but when it comes to their depression it’s a whole other story. And I truly do want to help!

  7. Sarah Hancock says:

    Now THAT is a good question. I think the only thing you can do in that situation, when someone tells you that “you can never understand,” you need to humbly state, “you’re right. I have never experienced what you are going through, but I would like to understand. Please, help me understand.” If the person isn’t willing to talk to you about it right then, at least you know that you are attempting to build a bridge. Perhaps that person will hang up the phone and think to herself, “did she really just ask me to help her understand?”

    There have been so many times when I needed help, but was too afraid to ask because I was surrounded with people who didn’t understand and didn’t seem to want to understand. If you extend the olive branch I mentioned above, I think that sooner or later, she or he will recognize you as an ally and feel safe talking to you about their experiences and be willing to accept your help. -SPH

  8. Julie Droutsas says:

    Sarah, I have a 15 yrs old daughter who is in her 10th grade in high school. She is in a post high school levels in most of her academic areas however she has failed almost most of her classes due to her depression. We have been going to therapy session for almost a year. She is finally getting her medication except for anti-dpression medications. She does not want to take it for whatever reason I do not know. I am trying to understand what depression does to her when she wants to do a “minimum efforts to do school work”. I recalled in her middle school she had almost 4.0 grade levels and now she it is almost down to nothing.
    I had read your other article about self-discpline to get them going. I shared that info to my daughter and she somewhat shrugs about it. Right now we are working to get her into 504 rehab act with the school district, we are asking for assessment if she is qualified for the IEP. I still do not know what options the school would provide for her to get her back on track. If you have any info something like this I would appreciate your help.

    • Hi Julie,

      It sounds like you and your daughter are going through a lot.

      I was struck with a couple of your comments. You mentioned that she appears to do the minimum required. In one of my classes, I work with a woman who teaches teenagers in High School. When she was talking about one student’s behavior, it seemed like she too was doing the minimum. When she mentioned the type of medication, I told her that I’d been on the same medication and told her I bet the student was doing the best they could with what they were dealing with.

      I think it is important to talk to your daughter in a very open way about her medication. How does it make her feel? Does she see a difference when she takes it? Does it make it harder to concentrate? Does she have the energy to do what she needs to do? Does she feel motivated? Does she feel worse? Does she feel awake when she is awake, or does she feel fuzzy or clouded? Does she sleep well? does she sleep too much or not enough? does she have nightmares when she sleeps? everything can be caused or changed with medications. Ask her open ended questions and then listen HARD to her answers. If something doesn’t seem to make sense, ask her to explain it differently.

      The other factor you need to consider is her peers. Do others know about her depression? Do people at school make fun of her for taking medication or having a diagnosis? Have her friends started dropping off? There are SOO many factors to consider.

      Ask her if she trusts her doctor. Ask her if she trusts her counselor. Ask her what she likes and dislikes about them. Listen.

      You may want to look at “Identity and Mental Illness: Not, What I Am, but Who I Am” and “The Act of Compliance” on I think they will help her.

      And above all, pray. Pray to know how to raise her. Heavenly Father knows her better than anyone, even better than she knows herself. Let her know that Heavenly Father lets her go through this because He knows she can do it. mom, he knows you can do it too!

      Good luck! If you would like to discuss more, we have an LDS Facebook group for “LDS support for people with mental Heath concerns” it is a closed group so you can request to be added. We have great discussions and loads of answers. Brainstorming sessions etc . ..

    • Sherri says:

      I hope you don’t mind me saying something, Julie (and Sarah). The fact that you mentioned your daughter is 15 and in 10th grade struck me. It was in 10th grade that I started medication after trying counseling for a year: I was trying to get used to the rigors of high school (where my brother had attended the year before when he committed suicide) but was feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork and really only desired to hang out at home. One of the letters I wrote to my dad and stepmom at this time prompted them to get me on medication. I ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks while they monitored my treatment and therapy sessions all day long.

      When I was released from the hospital, I cried for 3 days. I felt so safe in the hospital, surrounded by other people and cared for and attended to. To this day, I feel what was decided next was what helped me get back on my feet: my parents and the school counselor met to figure out what I needed, ending up withdrawing me from my hard classes and allowing me to attend school half time the rest of the school year. (I only did this just for my 10th grade schoolyear. I went on to take honors and AP classes in 11th and 12 grades, being careful not to overload my schedule).

      I think you are on the right path, Julie, as mom, trying to figure out what your daughter needs, looking for help and guidance. I hope your daughter knows how much you care for her and want to help her. My oldest is 14 and I worry often that my children will have some of the same problems I did as a youth. Good luck to you and your daughter.

      • Sarah Hancock says:

        Thank you Sherri! Lived experience always holds more weight in my mind. Thank you for sharing your experience.

        I have to add that somethings that work for me, don’t work for others and vice versa. That’s why when I started my recovery journey I tried to brain storm as many possibilities as I could with others because I knew that sooner or later I would find something that works! Unfortunately with mental health there is no one “Cure all.”

  9. Madi says:

    Sarah thank you for this article! I love reading the various things you have written because I know you “get it” and I appreciate your efforts to help others understand more and more. As someone with almost 5 years of life experience with depression I agree with what’s been said about how scary it can be to ask people for help and support. Even knowing that it is just as out of my control as something like diabetes, it is hard for me to believe that others could be as understanding about that. Thank you to the people who are wanting to learn how to help their loved ones. From my side of things know that it is a scary thing to trust people with because you feel like you are exposing something very personal, so even if people reject your offer to help or to try to understand, keep asking! It is very appreciated and if someone is able to accept your support you could change/save their life! If you don’t know what to say just express your love and acceptance and openness to learn more.

    • Sarah Hancock says:

      Thank you Madi, it means a lot to me that what I write rings true to you. It is hard to ask for what you need, scary even. But in the long run—vital! People who step in truly aleveviate burdens in a way they often don’t understand. They may never know the difference they make in our lives. I think i can never use enough Thank You cards! -SPH

  10. Paul says:

    Sarah, thanks for this wonderful article.

    I remember a significant depressive episode in my own life over a decade ago. I was sitting in a sacrament meeting feeling the full weight of depression (though I didn’t realize it) when the mission president’s wife in her sacrament meeting talk mentioned how happy members of the church always are and how wonderful that was! All I could think was, “if she only knew…”

    I don’t bear her any ill will. I think generally members of the church ARE happy, and that’s great. It wasn’t for several more weeks that I sorted out (thanks to my wife and a close friend) what was going on in my own life to help me through my episode. There were specific contributors to my temporary condition. But having lived through it made me far more sensitive to depression in others, including, as it happened, in the lives of some of my children.

    • Paul, Last Sunday I heard a lesson like the one you mentioned. I wanted to raise my hand and add my disclaimer to the lesson . . . “If you are living the gospel and keeping your covenant yet don’t feel happy, it is biological not spiritual. Get professional help!”

      But I kept my mouth closed . . . Leaving me to wonder if, like you, there was someone in class thinking, “if you only knew!”

  11. misssrobin says:

    I’ve struggled with frequent major depressive episodes for 12 years now. I can be fine for a long time and then find myself under the black cloud again. Most of the time, when I am in that place, I don’t want help. And most of the time when people offer help I reject it. It feels like help is often offered out of a sense of obligation or because they want to fix me, because my darkness is making them uncomfortable. Or because they think they know how to make it go away. Let me tell you what works for me.

    If we don’t have a close relationship when I’m well, if I don’t feel connected to you, I’m probably not going to accept your offers. Same thing if you’re a “fixer.” If you’re a fixer I don’t want to be anywhere near you when I’m not well. If you are someone who has proven over time, through good and bad, that you love me AND you can listen to me without trying to fix things — listen truly to understand — I may let you help.

    Usually the only thing that helps me is time. I’ve never found a medication that works for me, after trying many. Sometimes talking helps. Connecting with another person. But not if they’re going to give me suggestions to make it better. That will just push me away and shut me down.

    I had a friend ask why a therapist is more helpful, how my time talking with her could be more like that. This friend is an incredible listener who never judges what I say or tries to fix me. She doesn’t talk to others about me. She doesn’t make me feel like my pain is too heavy for her to hear. She doesn’t cry or tell me how sorry she is. She doesn’t tell me how to fix it. She listens and says, “That sucks!” She spends time with me when I can’t talk. My moods don’t ruin her day. She’s as close to a therapist as I’ve ever found in a friend. Even still, if she calls when I’m not ready I won’t talk to her. On those days she’s learned to send me a text that says she loves me and hopes my world gets brighter soon. And that she’s ready to get together as soon as I’m ready. She gives me the time and space I need to heal.

    My husband has also become better at supporting me. He gives me space, but gently checks in occasionally to see if I’m ready to connect. When I come out of my cave, he receives my presence gently. He doesn’t push discussion of what happened or why I’m not okay. He just sits with me. He holds me. And that helps heal me.

    Talking about depression is tough when I’m well because I forget some of how I feel in the darkness. Talking about depression when I’m depressed is ten times harder. Explaining depression to someone while I’m depressed is so much work. Asking me to explain it to you at that time would be like asking me to fly. Everything is so much harder when I’m depressed.

    I’ve been in a depression this week. I went to my meetings on Sunday. I went to YW on Tuesday. Other than that I haven’t really left my house; I’ve hardly left my room. I’ve lost friends because they couldn’t understand this. I can’t always be available on their time frame. I can’t always talk about what they want to talk about. I won’t always let them help. In the darkness, it’s just too hard.

    Love. Offer. Listen. Support. Believe. Validate. Study. Those are things you can do for the person you love with depression. Don’t push. It will have the opposite effect you’re hoping for.

    Unless a person is in danger, wait for them. Make the offer. Lay the ground work at other times. And be the kind of person they feel comfortable with. There’s nothing more important during a depression than knowing you have someone safe to talk to.

    One more thing, often we say no because the things others offer aren’t what we need. When I am in the darkness I don’t need someone to do my dishes or clean my house. That just makes me feel more worthless, like I’m not living up to my responsibilities.

  12. misssrobin says:

    Oh, and for me, communicating through writing when I’m depressed is so much easier than talking. Texts and emails might work better than voice communication.

  13. Julie says:

    Misssrobin, your description is pretty much what my daughter is going through when she does not want to hear anyone else’s problems or accept any offers from others. I notice she likes to get on computer or her phone for texts and emails. It seems better for her this way than just talking about anything with us parents.
    I can see what you re saying when you dont feel like doing housechores or anything for that matters. My daughter hates that kind of work to do.
    She is reluctant to take any anti-depression medications and I am not pushing it.
    I still have a huge concerns for her school education as she is in her sophomore year and she has failed 4 of her courses. She thinks she will move on to Junior year but I have doubtful. Me as a parent wants to get involved to help her but at the same time to leave her alone and let her manage her school work. Spring time is right around the corner and there isnt much left for her to pass those classes. Should I let her hit the “bottom”?

    • Anon for privacy says:

      Julie, I definitely do not think you should allow your daughter to “hit bottom.” Depression is not addiction. Allowing her to hit bottom could result in suicide. This is not a state of mind that your daughter can change just because she wants to. Coming out of the bottom of depression is much more difficult than getting help before it goes that far.

      I understand how frustrating it is as a parent, my daughter is teetering on the edge with her grades also – coming very close to not graduating. The reason my daughter has a difficult time with accomplishing things is because she feels overwhelmed. Pulling back help will only increase those feelings. With our daughter we’ve had conversations about what kind of help she wants (facilitated by her therapist), about what her goals are, and what she needs to do to get there – breaking it down into manageable chunks. We have to be very careful with our daughter that while we’re helping her and pointing out what she needs to focus on, reigning in criticism. Never calling names or assigning blame, even to ourselves as her parents. Receiving messages of criticism can lead to her feeling like a failure will only increase the feelings of helplessness and despondency.

      If you are not already getting therapy for your daughter please do so. A therapist is a wonderful resource for my daughter to get help, as well as being a resource for us as her parents to better understand her behavior and know how to help her. Sometimes as parents we are so close to the situation that it is hard to see what we could do differently to help, and that’s one way a therapist helps.

  14. Shaunaquin says:

    I would just like to add that one important way you can help your friend with a brain chemistry disorder, is to just treat them as a normal person. No one likes to be patronized. We live, breath, feel, experience life just like every other person, we just have a stubbed brain (rather than stubbed toe) that hurts sometimes. We don’t need to feel like whispers are going on about us behind our backs. Just treat us as whole people, because we are!

  15. OCD Blogger says:

    I think it’s important that we view depression as an illness and not necessarily as an ecclesiastical issue. In some cases spiritual based issues may need addressed but it’s vital that treatment and response is sought. It’s sad to see such misunderstandings among our fellows when it comes to mental health.

  16. Hi. I’m writing because my brother died three days ago. We are not sure if it was suicide or an accidental overdose. Tomorrow is his funeral and I am supposed to speak. I’m struggling to come up with the words to say. I experience depression as well and my mind constantly goes to…”why didn’t I, or if only I had….” I know that speaking like that would only cause more heartache. Any suggestions?

    • Bonnie says:

      Missy, I’m sorry your comment did not elicit an immediate reply. As a community, Real Intent is not terribly active anymore, but we leave the sources online for those who might benefit from them or simply be searching for faithful voices and the venue remains open for those who wish to or have time to write. I hope the funeral brought a measure of peace to you and your family. We each navigate these difficult circumstances so differently. I pray that there are supportive people around you who have the wisdom and love to reach out in the ways that work best for you. Someone once told me that time heals wounds, and I have discovered that time conceals wounds. Healing is a conscious, time-consuming process. I pray healing for you.

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