I'm really excited to bring you this post, written by my friend Daniel Myers. You can learn more about him and check out more of his writing at manieldyers.com.
Hello everyone, my name is Daniel and I am an unqualified writer, but a genuine human, and I’m writing to you today at the invitation of my friend Robert. I have oft written before on the topics of faith (specifically the Christian one) and mental health (depression in my case), and today I will write about them again.
I am writing this today as a person who has dealt with depression, to people who have not dealt with depression. I am writing this because, after blogging about depression, I’ve had many people ask me how to help their friends who are depressed. The TL:DR (too long, didn’t read) version is this: you cannot be their savior, you can only be their friend. But you can be friends with them in their sorrow.
To help your depressed friend, you must first help yourself by realizing that you are not God. This seems like a simple statement, but in reality we all fight against it all the time. We make plans years in advance, we try to be “good Christians” to try and earn our salvation, we try to control ourselves and the things around us (at least I do, maybe you’re more chill than me). Most things in this world are out of our control, including your friend. So, before you begin trying to help your friend, you need to accept that their fate is not in your hands.
Members of my community and I had to deal with this recently. One of my friends from college committed suicide in September. Around a year before his death, another of our friends had committed suicide. And before either of them killed themselves, I had written many blogs about depression, and about the hope that it can end, that we can get better. I know at least one of them read the blogs. At a party last summer he thanked me for writing them, and told me a little bit about his own depression. I hoped this meant he was getting better, but it didn’t. So, after the news, I had to wonder, “how could I have saved him?”
I still don’t know the answer to that question.
My friend had a loving community and a loving family. He had the most friends of almost anyone I know, numbering in the hundreds. I am sure his family and friends knew about his depression to some extent, and I’m sure they were supportive of him. But it wasn’t enough. But that doesn’t mean we all have to live in guilt. I couldn’t save my friend, but I also didn’t kill him. Neither did my pastor, who ministered to both of these guys.
So the first thing you need to know is, live or die, their lives are not in your hands. Humans only have one Savior, and his name is Jesus.
The second thing you need to know is that we are trying. I suffered under the dark cloud of depression for over seven long years. I thought about suicide almost daily for a large portion of that. But I didn’t want it.
I didn’t want to wake up some days and feel so terribly sad and hopeless that I didn’t even feel like I had the strength to move. I didn’t want to constantly think about how much I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to dampen my personality and relationships for all those years because I didn’t see how anyone else could love me when I saw nothing in me worth loving. I didn’t want it.
I recently talked to a friend, and I had already given her the first piece of advice, but then a comment made me give her this second piece to this puzzle. She said that she would not be responsible for her friend who was depressed, she would not take her friend’s life into her own hands. But then she also said that she would only help as long as her friend was trying.
Depression is a bit like homelessness in that sense: you can’t always tell if someone is trying. People ask why homeless people, “just won’t get a job.” But when you’ve been on the street for a few weeks without a razor and just one change of clothes and you smell like urine and don’t have a shower and are struggling against whatever issues brought you to the streets, it might be a little hard to get someone to hire you. I mean, I have a degree in engineering and I could barely find a job.
The same kind of thing happens with depression. It was literally a miracle that for seven years I got out of bed every day and went and did whatever I was supposed to be doing (mostly going to classes). I know it was a miracle because many mornings I woke up and immediately wanted to die. But then I would pray for God to give me the strength to get out of bed, and He always did. When it takes a miracle to get out of bed, you don’t have a lot of energy left over for “trying.”
Give your friend at least a little bit of a break. I know it’s been six years and they’re still crying and they still don’t know why (for me there was no specific reason I was depressed, I just was) and you just want it to be over. They do too. You don’t understand it, but chances are neither do they. You can leave them, and if you do, their salvation or destruction will not be on your head. But you won’t be there for what comes after. The Bible tells us to share in our friends’ sorrows and joys, and if you don’t stay for the sorrow, you just might miss the joy.
I have friends who stayed with me through my depression and loved me in my sorrows. I didn’t understand or appreciate their love at the time, but now I do, and I am very close with them. I also had friends who left me alone. And I don’t see them anymore. Not out of spite or anything like that, but because they left. Now I celebrate with the friends I have, and I don’t with the friends I don’t.
So if you have a friend dealing with depression, first you should know that they are not your responsibility. Second, stick with them if you can. You don’t have to save them, but you don’t have to abandon them either. If it looks like they aren’t trying, maybe all their trying was spent not picking up that knife. If they’re still alive, it means they haven’t given up hope, and neither should you.
I should have reached out more to one of my friends who committed suicide. I know I couldn’t have saved him, but at least I wouldn’t be left wishing I had given him one last hug or spent one more hour with him.
Don’t be left wishing.
And if your friend gets better, you’ll get to celebrate a new life with them, and that’s a party worth attending.
I’ll leave you with words you might speak to your friend:
“Don’t give up hope, it’s going to get better.”