Susan slowly began to trust and open up. Tears were shed, exchanges were intense, and her resistance level was high. Susan became a hard-working client, and as we worked on the core issues, her “real” personality came through. She was witty, possessed a kind heart, and was a fighter for what was right.
After six months of weekly therapy, Susan was walking to the door at the end of that day’s session. She turned to me and said, “You know, my birthday is next week and I am going to be fifty. I have had a long-time plan of how to celebrate this birthday that I have never told anyone.” Thinking we were just making small talk, I asked what she had planned.
She responded, “I have had the plan of killing myself on my fiftieth birthday.” I stopped and looked at her, trying not to let my alarm show. I said, “And now?” Susan broke into a big grin and responded, “Plans have changed. I want to celebrate what is good about my life with my friends and family. Suicide is no longer on the table.” Susan had decided to fight the grave pull of depression rather than give into it. She was clearly winning the fight.
For previous segments of Susan’s story see Life had not turned out as she had anticipated and Depression: Helpful Things to Say and Do. Susan’s counselor, Chantelle Dockter, advocates “….Shepherds can have a great impact on those who are in the pain of depression…Just as important as looking at what we should say and do, we also need to know what is not helpful and what is important to try and avoid.”
Hurtful Things to Avoid
1. DON’T just preach to the depressed person. Comments such as “if you were closer to God you wouldn’t be depressed,” or “your depression signifies a sin in your life that isn’t being attended to,” not only aren’t helpful responses, they are not necessarily true. Although it may be true that a woman experiences depression when avoiding something God is trying to show her, or continues to engage in sin, this is not true for the majority of cases of depression. If it is apparent that sin is a major factor, then the caregiver should speak the truth in love and bring that sin to light by discussing it openly and honestly with the individual.
If appropriate, the caregiver can offer to be an accountability partner for that person if she is willing to address the hold that a particular sin has on her. Sometimes it is helpful for the helper to offer to go with the woman to talk with a pastor or Christian mentor for additional accountability and spiritual guidance.
Often I find that clients who are reaching out for help in the church tend to feel judged and given “pat answers” more than clients who are not in the church. Shepherds are more effective in care giving when they respond as Jesus did to the pain of the individual. Jesus never negated the truth, but spoke truth in an appropriate manner and in the context of love (John 8:1-11; John 4:1-41; Mark 5:25-34). Effective shepherds recognize that there are many factors and causes to depression so will not oversimplify or over spiritualize it.
2. DON’T give up inviting the depressed individual to gatherings or events. Chances are she may say no as she tends to isolate. However if the invitations stop, it will only worsen her already fragile sense of self. Do not take refusals personally, but keep inviting. This will send the message that you care and will not give up on her.
3. DON’T guilt the person into getting involved. This is true for those who are depressed as well as those who are not. Guilt and shame are damaging and should not be used. Depressed individuals are easily overwhelmed and may have a tough time tackling even routine tasks.
4. DON’T treat the person as a label. Again, the depressed woman is tackling depression. She is not depression. Just like someone fighting cancer, she herself is not cancer.
5. DON’T treat depression as a weakness. Those who have never been depressed and do not fully understand depression sometimes do this. It is damaging and makes the woman feel like she is less than or that she herself is weak. Caregivers want to give hope and send the message to the depressed woman that she is strong and can tackle depression.
6. DON’T discount the option of medication. Depending on the person, the situation, and the severity of the depression, medication may be recommended or may even be necessary for the woman’s safety and well-being. Leave that decision to the healthcare professional and the individual. Although medication should not be the first or only line of defense, it has its place in treatment and should not be looked down upon. Sometimes temporary medication enables the depressed woman to better process life issues that have engendered the depression. Once she has completed the hard work of processing core issues, the level of medication may be greatly adjusted, occasionally ended.
7. DON’T think that you can “fix” the depressed person. It is important to understand that as much as you want to help and try to be there for her, it is still her battle to fight. Shepherds, caregivers, friends, and family can come alongside as compassionate and encouraging supports; however they can not own the outcome or be responsible for how much or how little the individual puts into the fight.
8. DON’T discount the importance of your own encouragement and prayer to the woman experiencing depression. A shepherd/caregiver extending consistent prayer, love and care is a powerful gift to the depressed. The best care is given by multiple contributors who take initiative in surrounding her with needed resources and referrals.
(Taken from Chapter 6, “Depression” by Chantelle Dockter, licensed professional counselor who specializes in women’s issues, in Shepherding Women in Pain.)