I love the movie Silver Linings Playbook. Not because of the love story. Not because of Robert De Niro or Bradley Cooper or Jennifer Lawrence. Not because of the awesome dance moves.
I love the movie because of its honest portrayal of mental illness and the message that you can still live life if you have a mental illness. I love how Pat’s parents learn to suffer through it with him, loving him along the way—which isn’t easy.
I know, because I’ve been living with depression for the past 13 years.
Before experiencing depression myself, I never understood how or why someone would want to live life in a constant state of sadness, with thoughts of harming themself and no hope in sight in the world. Then I found out that no one wants to live life that way. It’s something beyond their control. Something that doesn’t make sense to them and that they don’t want to have present in their life.
I was diagnosed with depression as a freshman in college after already experiencing some difficult events in my life. I didn’t understand who I was, why I was thinking the way I was, or why everyone was out to get me. After that first hard year of living with depression, however, I learned that a clinically depressed person’s perception of the world isn’t actually accurate. They unfortunately see the world through jumbled and confusing lenses which often produce paranoia and frustrations that others can’t seem to understand.
All I wanted was someone to be there for me, to acknowledge that they cared and would remain by my side through the chaotic ride that was my life.
So here are a few things that you can do to care well for your friends who are living with depression.
1. Listen to us.
Just listen to us as we talk and share. Sometimes what we share may not be an accurate portrayal of what is going on in life. But instead of correcting our view, listen and pray about how God may want you to respond.
2. Don’t say you understand how we feel.
Unless you’ve wrestled with depression yourself, you have no idea how we feel. And even if you have lived with depression, your experience is likely different from that of your friends. Saying you understand is pretty frustrating to someone who doesn’t even understand how they themselves feel at the moment.
3. Intercede on our behalf.
The worst feeling I experienced during my beginning stages of depression was a blockade between me and God. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t read the Bible without weeping uncontrollably. Knowing though that there were family, friends, and complete strangers warring on my behalf through prayer was a source of strength for me, and will likely be the same for your friend.
4. Don’t judge us for taking medication.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I read or heard that I didn’t need medication to deal with my depression but rather a stronger faith. This isn’t just damaging to the person who needs antidepressants—it’s also untrue. You wouldn’t tell a diabetic that they don’t need insulin and that with enough faith they can eat all the sugar they want without experiencing a diabetic coma.
My body has a chemical imbalance that requires antidepressants in order for me to think clearly and have some control over my emotions. Without this medication I become withdrawn, begin to feel as if everyone is conspiring against me, and, at the lowest point, experience suicidal thoughts. God provided science and medicine to help me live the life he calls me to live: life as his child living with depression.
5. Rejoice with us over victories.
I recently spent some time in self-reflection and realized that, over the past six months, I’ve experienced some really hard transitions in life. While I was reflecting, God showed me that my emotional health during these experiences was extremely different from where I was just a year ago. I was able to walk through the transitions without major freak-out moments or a lack of hope. I shared this insight with my family and friends—and they were ecstatic with me over the realization.
6. Realize that, although depression may be a major part of our life, it’s not what defines us.
We still long to have friends, to go places, to laugh and have a good time; it’s just a little harder for us. But continue to invite us out—don’t let us stay withdrawn. We may say no, but just being invited means the world to us and shows us that you care.
The Way Forward
Be willing to have open and honest conversations with others if you’re experiencing depression yourself. If you’re on the receiving end of such conversations, don’t act shocked or surprised when an outgoing friend of yours admits they live with depression. There’s much to be learned about mental illness, and the place to start is open dialogue between friends. Perhaps even sit down with some popcorn and watch my favorite movie—and maybe reenact Pat and Tiffany’s epic dance scene at the end as a celebration of real conversations between real people.
Note: If you have been made aware of a depressed friend wanting to hurt themselves or others, it is your responsibility to take action. There are professionals willing and available to help those in need. Contact an authority figure you trust, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website for help, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
One in four adults—about 61.5 million Americans—wrestle with mental illness each year, and 13.6 million live with a serious, ongoing illness such as bipolar disorder or major depression. October 6 to 12 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, so we’re posting stories and tools over the next few days to foster conversation and break down misconceptions about mental illness. As you read, may you be encouraged in your own life and better equipped to help others in the journey.
You might also find these InterVarsity Press resources helpful: