13 Helps For When a Friend Battles Depression

Unless you live under a rock, you likely know somebody who battles depression. Actually if you live under a rock, you might be battling depression yourself. So often folks who don’t understand these periods of darkness feel like their hands are tied when trying to help a friend. It feels like nothing you say really gets through or helps.

Back in the seventeenth century a minister in London, Timothy Rogers, had suffered with a serious bout of depression. When God rescued him out of that pit he jotted down his thoughts into a little book. In the 1800s, Archibald Alexander picked up that book and used it in his work Thoughts On Religious Experience.

Here is what I’m giving you today. My paraphrase of Alexander’s paraphrase of Rogers. These are 13 suggestions for helping friends who are distressed:

  1. Look upon your distressed friends as under one of the worst distempers…it is vain to attempt to resist it by reasoning and rational motives as to oppose a fever, or the gout, or pleurisy…it is impossible to understand the nature of it in any other way than by experience.
  2. Treat those who are under the disease with tender compassion.
  3. Never use harsh language to your friends under the disease of melancholy.
  4. Take seriously the way they relate their feelings and distresses. It does no good to tell them, ‘this is all imaginary’.
  5. Don’t put upon them weights which are beyond their power to accomplish.
  6. Don’t attribute their affliction to the devil.
  7. Don’t be shocked by anything they say or do. Don’t respond to their sharp words with sharp words of your own.
  8. Do not tell them of the sad stories or disasters which have overtaken others.
  9. Encourage them to hope for a speedy deliverance.

10. Tell them of others who have been in a similar state and found deliverance.

11. Pray for them.

12. Engage other believers to pray for them.

13. Put your poor afflicted friends in mind continually of the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ.

I’m don’t fully agree with all of these, but it is interesting to see how pastors of old dealt with mental illness and things like depression. Most people think those who lived before Freud had little to nothing to say about mental illness. This is simply not true. The Puritans and many of those who came from that stream were masters at soul care. They spoke of things in their day which are being confirmed in ours.

The gist of what Rogers/Alexander are saying is that we must take depressive persons seriously. And we ought to speak to them truthfully but graciously. What they really need is prayer and to see the Lord. They likely won’t be rescued by harsh language nor will Bob Newhart’s STOP IT! do much good.

There is, however, a bit of hopelessness to the language that Rogers/Alexander are using. As if all we really can do as friends is hang on with them and wait until morning. I agree with this in part but I’m also convinced that we are called to at times sing to the deaf. It’s a tricky balance so if nothing else I pray that you see dealing with depressed friends isn’t going to be solved by quick magical words.

What do you think of this 200 year old advice?

7 Comments

  1. Good stuff here. Did either Rogers or Alexander elaborate on #6?

    During my own fights with depression I was keenly aware that many of my negative thoughts were not true, and that they had their origin in the doctrines of demons. Knowing the source of the lies helped me to resist them.

    • Great question, Tony.

      I believe his point is that you don’t want to lead such a one to believe he is possessed of the devil. Nor that the depressed person is gratifying the devil. His logic is that if this is the work of Satan and the believer is giving in to this work then he is under the influence of the evil one–which for a true believer would likely only lead to more despair.

      I’m also agree with you. Knowing that these lies are coming from the enemy and not necessarily our own mind is helpful to reject them.

  2. “There is, however, a bit of hopelessness to the language that Rogers/Alexander are using”

    I think that is just consequential to the fact that the experience of depression is one that feels like hopelessness they described. Anything less than a description of severe depression would seem to be denying the experience

  3. I especially like # 8. Too many people feel the urge to tell you stories which may parallel yours in some way. The end may mot even be good, in fact it usually isnt. I never understood why they thought that might help. When you are suffering you dont have the emotional strength to deal with everybody else’s problems too.

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