How the Church Can Help the Depressed - part two
Depression and the Church – part 2
An Interview with Mary Southerland
Depression devastates millions in our society including many church members. It is an issue that churches need to address and must address. The world openly offers band-aid solutions to those imprisoned by the darkness of depression. In reality, depression can only be truly dealt with through the power of God and His love at work in His people. We met with Mary Southerland, Director of Networking for Proverbs 31 Ministries in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the author of “Coming Out of the Dark”, which is the story of her personal struggle with clinical depression. In Part 1 of our interview, Mary speaks candidly about her own experience with depression and addresses what church leaders need to know about depression.
Q: How can churches and church leaders help someone who is depressed?
A: Many times, we want to help but because we don't know what to do-we do nothing at all! There
are specific things anyone can do to help those battling depression.
1. Be a listener.
James 1:19: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak." Put away your sermon-save your
advice and just listen. People in the grip of depression know that you cannot fix them and it makes
them angry when you try. Listening sends the most important message, "I'm here for you. I want to
understand and share your pain." When we listen to people, we validate their feelings. We invite
them into our lives giving them the most precious gift that we have-time. Listening is encouragement.
And that is exactly what someone in the darkness needs most - encouragement.
2. Be a stabilizer.
1 Thessalonians 5:11: "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up!" To encourage
literally means to "put courage in." In order to help someone who is struggling with depression, you
must stay emotionally centered. Don't join them in the pit. They need your stability.
3. Get involved in their life.
Proverbs 17:17: "A true friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need." Paul
defines involvement as being a "loyal yoke-fellow" or someone who will get under the load with you.
If you sense a need just meet that need, small or large, expecting nothing in return because they
can't give it. Don't wait for them to ask. Many times people in pain can't or won't ask for help.
Getting involved may be as simple as asking their small group to provide weekly meals, drop off or
pick up children from school, shop for groceries or vacuum their house. These simple tasks seem like
huge mountains to the person battling depression. Sadly, the church is sometimes famous for hurting
our own and discarding them like broken toys. We are all wounded, but we can choose to become
wounded healers through the power of God.
4. Establish a support team.
We were created to need each other. A shared load is a lighter load. Seek out someone who has
struggled with depression and found victory over the darkness. Challenge [that person] to share [his
or her] story and provide a safe place where others can come to share theirs. An encouragement
team can pray, offer much needed support, take care of specific daily needs, etc. More people come
to God in times of crisis than at any other time in life. The importance of being involved in a small
group is demonstrated when small group members reach out to those struggling with depression.
5. Be transparent.
We must be real in order to be right. Healing begins at the point of emotional integrity. When church
leaders openly share their own personal struggles and problems, it frees others to do the same and
the course for restoration is set.
6. Be patient.
No one gets depressed overnight, and no one conquers depression overnight. Life is a marathon, not
a fifty-yard dash, and we must be patient, willing to help those who run the race slowly or cannot run
Q: We have talked about what churches and church leaders should do when helping someone who is depressed. What should we not do?
A: I love the story of the little boy who found a caterpillar in his driveway. As he carefully examined
his new discovery, an amazing scene unfolded before him. The moth was frantically struggling to
escape its outer covering. Anxious to help, the little boy ran inside, grabbed some scissors and
returned to his mission, gently setting the moth free from its prison of darkness. The little boy sat
down beside the butterfly to watch its first flight. But the butterfly stumbled, vainly trying to lift its
wings-only to wobble, falling over and over again. You see, it is in the struggle from the prison of
darkness into the light that wings gain enough strength to fly.
I believe that one of the greatest mistakes we as church leaders make is to miss the purpose of the
pit in our zeal to set the pit dwellers free. It is a shallow love that rescues easily and quickly. There is
a purpose in every pit. Many times, we inadvertently encourage those who struggle with depression
to focus only on escaping the pit instead of embracing the purpose of the pit. Pits have an amazing
way of bringing balance to life as they demand a change in perspective, offering new growth and
strength for the journey.
It is also easy to feed our own self-worth and ego as church leaders by becoming an emotional
crutch for those in crisis. Some people do not want to give up their pit. It has become their identity
and way of gaining attention. We must be careful investors of our time and energy. Helping someone
in darkness is a great opportunity for the body of Christ to function in a powerful way.
Q: What are some specific ways the church ministered to you and what was the result?
A: If it were not for the people of Flamingo Road Church, my story would be a very different one.
They brought meals, cleaned my house, took care of my kids, ran my errands, and even bought
groceries for me. Deacons were assigned to me at every service. They constantly watched over me,
rescuing me from conversations and situations that were draining and destructive to my recovery.
These precious men escorted me to and from my car, sending me home with a hug and a prayer.
Friends in the church stepped in and took over my roles of leadership. Others called, wrote notes of
encouragement and prayed endlessly for me. I am where I am today because of a church that was
willing to love me and stand by me, even in the darkness. The world is desperately longing for a safe
place where they can come to see a living God at work. As a result of my struggle with clinical
depression and the way in which the people of Flamingo Road responded, many others have come to
find that same love, acceptance, and support.
Q: Do you have a final thought to share?
A: If there is one central message of my story, it is hope. I made it out of the pit and so can you.
The path may seem endless and even cruel at times. But remember that you did not slip into that pit
overnight and you will not climb out overnight. The journey out of the pit begins and ends with one
small step of faith. Walk straight ahead through your fear. And with each step, moment by moment,
the darkness will slowly begin to lift.
Psalm 40:1-3 states, "I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me
out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to
stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to God. Many will see and fear and put
their trust in the Lord."