Depression is something we are becoming more aware of and less fearful of in our Christian circles. I'm thankful the information is available and glad we are becoming more comfortable with these discussions. But I think there is a piece that we sometimes miss. Depression has many ripple effects and spouses or loved ones are often struggling in the wake.
So here are some thoughts to consider if you find yourself bobbing like a buoy in the wake of a loved one's struggle with depression. These aren't how-to fixers, but might be lifesavers to help you in weathering the strong and sometimes lengthy storms.
1. Cling to God as your anchor. This might seem like a no brainer to some and yet Christian rhetoric to others. Either way, take it to heart because there is no other who can calm your fears, strengthen you in weakness, and sustain you when you don't feel that you can make it any longer. Do all the things you know to do – pray, read the Word, meditate on the Word, listen to uplifting songs of praise, worship with fellow believers – not in a legalistic way, but as a source of strength, joy, and faith. There will likely be times when God is the only one available to hear your heart cries of hurt, anger, and suffering. So anchoring your soul in Him is the best thing you can do.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
2. Build your support system. This may be difficult because you will probably want to isolate more as a means of privacy, or even embarrassment. In fact, this is the time you really need to lean on family and friends who can support, encourage, and love on you. It doesn't have to be a social event. This could be as simple as phone calls, texting, emails, bible studies, lunch breaks – whatever ways you can connect with others in order to laugh and be reminded of the good things in life (and I'm also talking about connecting with those of the same sex, not relationships with the opposite sex that could lead you down roads you don't want to go!).
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galations 6:2
3. Set Boundaries. You are not to blame for your loved one's depression, but there will be days when it can seem like you are! Depression ramps up irritability and your loved one may blame you for all sorts of things that "go wrong" in his/her life. They may also say very hurtful things. It is important for you to be loving, but assertive. If you need to have some time to clear your head, regain composure so you don't go off and make things worse, or if you need to lovingly let him/her know that you will not allow yourself to be treated or spoken to in unhealthy ways, do your best to assertively communicate these things. You will probably find yourself having to exercise forgiveness as well because depression can cause our loved ones to respond in ways that we know are not their true character.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:2-3
4. Seek professional help if needed. Being in a relationship with a depressed loved one can be very taxing on you emotionally, mentally, and sometimes even physically. So if you find yourself feeling as though you are flailing about, losing the ability to find hope and/or meaning, living in a zombie like state, or thinking that you just can't live this way anymore it might be time for you to seek professional help. Even if your loved one refuses to go to a counselor or doctor for assistance, you don't have to follow in their footsteps. If they don't go, you can and connect with a professional who will listen, educate, encourage, and support you. Just remember the support you would receive would be for personal health and encouragement.Your loved one will have to seek help and healing on their own.
You may not have control over the wake, but you can make choices and seek ways to ride the waves more effectively.
Katie Swafford serves as Director of Counseling Services. For information more information about Texas Baptist Counseling Services, contact Katie Swafford at 214-887-5488 or katie.swafford@texasbaptists.