How To Help Someone Who Is Depressed: An LDS Perspective
by RI Editors
This guest essay in our Peculiar Minds series is by Sarah Hancock.
Last 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 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.
The Entire Series
- Forum – Is Mental Illness a Latter Day Plague?
- Resources (research)
- Resources for Help with Mental Illness by Paul
- Understanding PTSD by Robin Grosland
- Anxiety Disorders, Including PTSD (research)
- The Diagnosis by anonymous
- Understanding Asperger’s by Kathy Ward
- Understanding Dementia by Cassandra Jones
- Different Issues for Children (research)
- Asperger’s and Autism (research)
- Simply Depression by Jendoop
- How to Help Someone Who is Depressed: an LDS perspective by Sarah Hancock
- Forum – Does Committing Suicide Consign Someone to Hell?
- The Well of Depression by Cheryl
- Panic, OCD, Grandma and Me by NotMolly
- Understanding Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and OCD by Robison Wells
- Free at Last by anonymous
- Forum – No One Wants to Hear They’re Wrong
- Understanding P0rnography Addiction by Dr. Kevin Skinner
- What is Real? Living Without Diagnosis by anonymous
- A Reader’s Story of Hope by anonymous
- Understanding Bipolar II Disorder by Tresa Edmunds (Reese Dixon)
- What is Bipolar Disorder? (research)
- Choosing Treatment through Revelation by Bonnie
- Overcoming Anxiety and Depression Without Medication by Aaron Anderson
- How Do We Embrace Those with Mental Illness by Jendoop
- What is Schizophrenia? (research)
- Understanding Schizophrenia by Judy Hall
- Understanding a Roommate with Schizophrenia by anonymous
- Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder by Melissa Horsley
- My Path Down the Rabbit Hole by anonymous
- Mental Illness FHE Lesson by Jendoop
- Healing by Michelle