My life sucks. Nothing is going right. I try to be a Christian, but a lot of good it does me. How can I be such a good Christian yet still suffer so much in my life? Many of us know someone with depression, work with someone with it, or personally experience depression. Dealing with the negativity of depression can be draining on everyone, including the person who is struggling with depression. This negativity can seemingly drain all of the happiness out of the lives of those who encounter a depressed individual. Much like the dementors in the Harry Potter series, the negativity of depression cannot be left to leech the life out of those around it.
What can caregivers and friends do to combat the negativity of depression? If we are unaware of the negativity or if we are all too aware how toxic it is, our first reaction in these situations can be to withdraw from the person, whether we stop interacting with them or we shut them down and throw problem solving tools at them. We recognize that we have to do something to deal with the negativity. But are we really solving the problem or are we just avoiding the problem?
Let us look for guidance on this matter from our Lord and Savior. Matthew chapter 8 is where we will start. In this chapter of Matthew, there is a man with a skin disease who approaches Jesus. In Jesus’ time, if someone had a skin disease (often Leprosy), they were outcast. The last thing anyone would do was touch them. Yet what does Jesus do? Yes, in verse 3 he does the unthinkable. He touches the man and heals him.
Perhaps an initial reaction here is that Jesus is God, so for him, touching a disease is no big deal. And we, not being God, would not be so bold. But that is exactly where we go astray. Not that we can become God, but that when we bring love and compassion to someone, this is Christ working through us.
When we find ourselves repulsed by the negativity of depression, the answer is not to turn away from the person. The answer is not to problem solve all the person’s problems. No, the answer is often to love, support, and validate that person. It is unfortunate that we so quickly forget about compassion when it is our own comfort that is impacted. The pain and despair of depression can pierce the very soul of a person. It can cast everything in darkness. And when everything always seems dark and hopeless, where can that person find positivity? Where can he or she find light? The answer can be in those around that person. We can bring the light of Christ to those in darkness. When we can see beyond the negativity, to the person who is so badly hurting, then we bring the light of Christ to them and can pierce the darkness.
We can get caught up in looking for the right words to say which can either cause us to talk too much, go to problem solving or say nothing. But how would we feel if everything was always seeming to go wrong? How would we feel if our lives were always cast in darkness? That would be horrible, it would suck, it would be painful, it would be lonely. Those are just some of the pains underneath the negativity. One of the things that I have found to be helpful as a therapist when working with depression is not to forget about humor. Not humor that avoids the problem but humor that can pierce the darkness if only for a moment. Then the validating can happen. We do not need to validate the negativity. We must validate the underlying hurt. Sometimes over and over again. And this makes sense because someone with depression will encounter the darkness over and over again.
We cannot be afraid to touch the pain of depression. We must not be deterred by the toxicity of negativity. It is difficult, no doubt. But we are on this earth today, right now, with each other and we are commanded to bear each other’s burdens. And we ought to do that with love, patience, compassion, and even humor. Let us follow Christ’s example and not be afraid to encounter the suffering of a depressed brother or sister.