March 19, 2018

5 Ways To Support A Friend Through Depression

This week, Ashley Easter shares five easy ways to support someone you love through depression.

---

Depression affects millions of people every year. Chances are at some point in your life you will have a friend or loved one who is experiencing depression. You may know someone struggling with depression right now. But how can you, as an outsider looking in, know how to best support your struggling loved one through this dark season of time?

In the following post we will cover 5 ways you can support a friend through a season of depression:

1. Get Informed
Our society perpetuates a lot of misconceptions about depression. Many people use the term “depression” as a catch all for anytime they are feeling sad but clinical depression isn’t synonymous with ordinary sadness. Clinical depression continues for an extended length of time and may include symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, changes in eating habits, lack of interest in activities one once loved, suicidal thoughts, and yes, feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

For you to be the best support for your friend, you need to become educated on the truth about depression. Instead of relying on pop culture's depression diagnosis read medical journals and online medical articles or talk with a professional about the effects of depression. The more you understand what your loved one is going through the more you will be able to effectively support them.

2. Have Compassion vs. Condemnation
When supporting a loved one through a season of depression, it is essential not to heap on additional condemnation. Your friend is likely already having self-deprecating thoughts. Don’t add more weight to their burden. Avoid painting depression as their fault and in their total control. It is not helpful to suggest that they pray harder, think happier thoughts, or buck up and move on. Because
depression symptoms may make it difficult to engage in everyday jobs or activities some people will assume that the person struggling with depression is lazy or lacking determination. This is not the case, and healing depression is not that simple. Suggesting otherwise implies that your loved one is at fault for their pain. Depression is often caused by a chemical or hormone imbalance, stress, trauma or other related issues. All of these are out of your loved one’s control.

Instead of telling your friend what they should do better listen when they are willing to share how they are feeling. Offer empathy, understanding, and words of kindness. Remind them that they are loved and that you are proud of them even during this time of depression. Your compassionate presence will go a long way even if you don't have many words to say.

3. Use The Number Scale
When someone is in the darkness that is depression, sometimes it is hard for them to communicate their feelings even when they are in a mind frame that could lead to self-harm. This is understandable and asking for a person with depression to describe their feelings when they are in deep pain can be overwhelming and ineffective. That is why I like to use the number scale.

Ask your loved one to rank on a scale from one to 10 how they are feeling. 1 represents feelings of happiness, 5 represents mid grade depressive feelings, and 10 represents plans for self harm. The numbers in between help a person gauge how close or far away they are from these markers, when they are worsening, and if they are approaching a dangerous phase.

If possible present this scale when your loved one is feeling good or moderately good. Discuss how this can help them effectively communicate with few words in overwhelming seasons.

This can be a great tool in tough times and can help you monitor the changes in your loved one's feelings if they are willing to honestly share.

4. Find Professional Help
Depression is not a personality flaw or a spiritual sin issue it is a mental health condition and often requires professional support to find solutions. If your close friend or loved one is going through several weeks on depressive symptoms suggest that they reach out to their medical doctor and start treatment with a licensed therapist.  The therapist may be able to get to the root of the stress or trauma causing the depression and provide ideas for self-care and recovery. If the issue is chemical or hormone imbalance a medical doctor and can perform simple tests and ask appropriate questions so they can prescribe medication to relieve the symptoms of depression.

Sometimes in the middle of depression a person doesn’t feel able to make appointments for themself. Offer to assist them in finding a doctor or therapist, and with their permission, you may even be able to set up and attend the appointment with them.

If at any time you feel your loved one may be considering self-harm immediately call 911. You do not need their permission for this and it could save their life.

5. Remind Them Of Who They Are
Your loved one is experiencing depression, they themselves are not depression. Take time to remind your friend of this. Remind them of what they mean to you and others. Let them know they are not a burden, they are your friend and that you are happy to support them during this difficult time.




---

Ashley Easter writes, blogs, speaks, and advocates for abuse victims. She founded The Courage Conference, a yearly event that empowers survivors of abuse to fight for their healing while also educating church leaders on prevention and proper response to abuse. Ashley promotes truth-telling, advocates for gender equality, and educates churches on abuse. You can find her at www.AshleyEaster.comwww.TheCourageConference.com; Twitter: @ashleymeaster; Facebook: /ashleymeaster




March 6, 2018

When Faith Communities Make Depression Worse


Meet Ashley Easter, powerhouse world-changer who is on a mission to empower survivors of abuse to fight for their healing while also educating church leaders on prevention and proper response to abuse. This week, she explores the challenges people of faith face when dealing with depression.

---

I grew up in a very conservative portion of Christianity, and I have met numerous people from similar faith backgrounds who struggle with depression. While many find solace in their faith during times of depression, unfortunately, some religious communities perpetuation harmful myths about depression that only add layers of pain to those already suffering.

Here are some of the myths about depression I have heard coming from some religious communities:

       Depression is a spiritual issue or spiritual failure.

       Prayer, Bible reading, and sermons are enough to heal depression.

       Christians shouldn’t see licensed therapists, only bible based pastoral counselors without psychology degrees.

       If you take medication for depression, you are not trusting God enough.

       Suicidal thoughts are sinful, selfish, and damming.

       You need to get over your depression, or you are outside of God’s will.

       Christians should be the happiest people in the world, if you struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts you are not a true Christian.

Despite what some may tell you, depression is not primarily a spiritual issue, and it is certainly not a spiritual failure. Science shows us that depression can be caused by a myriad of things including stress, trauma, and chemical or hormonal imbalance in the body and brain. You are not at fault for the way you are feeling. Depression and suicidal thoughts are not sinful or an act of selfishness, but they are serious mental health issues that deserve treatment.

Depression needs to be treated by mental health professionals like doctors, psychiatrists, and licensed therapists. At times a person may find comfort in prayer and scripture reading on their own or by a pastor friend, but this should be in addition to and not in contrast with professional healthcare specialists. Just as you would not seek medical attention from a pastor-counselor, who is not also a licensed medical doctor so you should not seek primary care for your mental health concerns from a pastor who is not also a credible, licensed therapist.



Professionals often have solutions and tools to address depression such as therapy treatments or medication. Relying on these medicines and medical advances, long-term or short-term, does not in anyway take away from your ability to trust in God. We take antibiotics for illness and view this prescription as a gift. In the same way, a person of faith can use medication for depression and know that this is also a gift and does not detract from their spirituality.

I was recently watching an interview with a celebrity who no longer identifies as Christian. Even though she is no longer in a faith community and she had changed her beliefs in many areas she admitted that she still has nagging guilt and fear around mental health issues such as depression and suicide due to her past faith background.

Whether you identify as Christian or not, harmful myths from spiritual leaders regarding depression can still haunt you. In addition to the science of mental health linked to above, I want to remind you that even Jesus called out in what seemed to be a depressive state in the garden right before his arrest and again in anguish on the cross. If even Jesus experienced extreme seasons of deep emotional pain, I believe God has compassion for those of us suffering from depression too.

If you are a person of faith, I want you to know that professional treatment for your depression is not in conflict with faith. You deserve to find support and healing.

If you are a faith leader, I encourage you to examine how your words around depression and other mental health issues significantly impact those in your care. When in doubt refer out to professionals and approach the subject with compassion. Doing this will show you take seriously your responsibility to safe, pastoral care.


---

Ashley Easter writes, blogs, speaks, and advocates for abuse victims. She founded The Courage Conference, a yearly event that empowers survivors of abuse to fight for their healing while also educating church leaders on prevention and proper response to abuse. Ashley promotes truth-telling, advocates for gender equality, and educates churches on abuse. You can find her at www.AshleyEaster.comwww.TheCourageConference.com; Twitter: @ashleymeaster; Facebook: /ashleymeaster




Sign up for my free guide so you can stop spinning your wheels and instead navigate your way through each stage of recovery with ease and clarity. Get the support you need today