Caring for the Depressed (1): Study
Written by David Murray
PDF Print E-mail
Reformed Practice - Depression

A depressed Christian’s family and friends, and fellow Christians, will be involved to one degree or another in helping a depressed person get better. Usually these caregivers have no medical training, and often they have limited or incorrect knowledge of depression or anxiety. However, they have a critical role in helping a depressed person get better. Research has shown that depressed people get better much quicker if they can confide in and get support from someone close to them. Over the next few days we will consider ten areas for caregivers to consider when they are trying to help a depressed person get better.

The first requirement is study. As Christians, we surely want to be the person to whom our loved ones turn in time of need. And when they do turn to us, we want to be able to help them and not hurt them further. It is imperative, therefore, that we learn about depression in order to avoid the common mistakes that laypeople often make when dealing with the depressed and in order to be of maximum benefit to those who are suffering.

Along with studying how Jesus dealt with the ill, the weak, and the distressed, you might want to read some of the helpful books, written from a Christian perspective, that are now available. The following are lis ted in order of readability and usefulness:

  1. I’m Not Supposed to Feel Like This by Chris Williams, Paul Richards, and Ingrid Whitton
  2. D is for Depression by Michael Lawson
  3. Overcoming Spiritual Depression by Arie Elshout
  4. When the darkness won’t lift by John Piper
  5. Broken Minds by Steve and Robyn Bloem
  6. A Practical Workbook for the Depressed Christian by Dr. John Lockley (you can safely ignore chapter 19)

Another book, of course, is the well-known Spiritual Depression by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. However, you should be aware that in that book Dr. Lloyd-Jones does not deal with every aspect of depression as an illness but rather focuses on some of the spiritual consequences of depression. In some ways, the book is more about spiritual discouragement than depression, but it is helpful nevertheless.

A book written from a non-Christian perspective, but which is still useful for changing unhelpful thought patterns and behavior, is Mind over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky.

I would also cautiously recommend Ed Welch’s Blame It on the Brain? and Depression: A Stubborn Darkness. Dr. Welch exhibits a sensitive balance when dealing with depression, and his books have a lot of excellent and helpful material. He seems to be open to non-spiritual causes of depression, although at times he still seems to revert to the “medicine only alleviates symptoms” model. A Stubborn Darkness is also helpful for exploring possible spiritual causes or contributors to depression. However, I would hesitate to put this book directly into the hands of depressed Christians, as they will often draw the worst possible conclusions about themselves, regardless of objective reality. It is better that a committed and understanding pastor or family member gently and wisely guide a depressed person through the relevant parts of the book.

It is important to remember that reading these books will not turn you into a mental health expert, but it will make you more useful and helpful to loved ones in distress. It will also help you to know your limitations so that you make the right decision about when to advise someone to see a more experienced Christian, a doctor, or a mental health professional. I would recommend that pastors build a database of local doctors and mental health professionals who share their Christian principles. Phone around, speak to people, visit hospitals, speak to the staff, and build relationships so that when you are facing a situation that is beyond your competence, you will know to whom you should turn.

This is an excerpt from Dr. David Murray's book "Christians Get Depressed Too." Dr. David Murray is the Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Before coming to North America, he was the pastor at Stornaway Free Chuch of Scotland (Cont.).  He blogs at http://headhearthand.org/blog.