Top Five Worst Comments Christians Make to Depressed Friends

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I must confess something to you. It may come as a shock in light of my 172 posts over the past 14 months of blogging. My husband would deny it, but it’s the truth: Sometimes I am at a loss for words.

I’ll grant you, it’s not often, but I came across a list on line a year that left me speechless for some time. It was a compilation of actual quotes from loved ones and well meaning folks toward their depressed friend or family member. One quote literally referred to finding a prostitute as a solution! I just sat there thinking….

what…………..in………the…………world??????

 

So after a year of not having anything to say, I now feel compelled to speak on behalf of thousands of wonderful people who battle depression. I see them in my office and I watch them try so hard to figure out why, oh why can’t they just feel/be/get better!? Often one of the greatest sources of discouragement comes from church friends and family members who believe it’s “wrong” to be depressed or that their loved one needs to “get over it.” And can I just say, I have come to assume that usually people do the wrong thing for the right reason. So, my guess is many of these comments were well intended, but poorly expressed. Some reflect a general lack of understanding about depression. Some, a few, are simply hateful.

I am not going to attempt to explain all that factors into depression, as that would be another blog for another day. But I do want to share five actual statements off the list I read that are not helpful, and offer some alternatives.

1. “You’d be fine if you had more faith” & “Watch the Passion of the Christ- that should fix you” The implication in both of these is struggling with depression is an indication of spiritual failure. The truth is depression can be (and often is) caused by physical factors, over which the individual has no control. Just as it is not a sin or failure to have a pancreas that stops producing insulin culminating in diabetes, it is not a failure to have your brain stop producing serotonin, nor-epinephrine or dopemine. Your brain is an organ like any other in your body and in this broken world often are bodies do not work as they were ideally designed. Additionally, we live through trauma and dysfunction in this world that can also cause the brain to quit functioning properly. Neither of these scenarios are necessarily in the control of the depressed person.

Helpful alternative: How can I pray for you? or I am praying for you.

2. “Come on, snap out of it!” or “Just go shopping to treat yourself” The implication is there is a fast and simple fix the person is just not utilizing. The truth is for most depressed people it will take time and a combination of medical, emotional and spiritual interventions to fully recover or manage their depression. We’d all like there to be a simple solution, but often that desire comes from a lack of willingness to suffer with someone for the long haul.

Helpful alternative: How can I be a support to you? 

3. “I’m disappointed to hear that” or “For God’s sake, there was no such thing as depression in my day” The implication is the depressed person should feel ashamed of themselves for their struggle. The truth is you can’t shame someone into feeling well. People are where they are, and while you may not like it, shaming them will not help them because they typically feel like a failure already. One of the most common conversations I have with depressed Christians is about their shame over their struggle. That’s not to say the person may not have contributed to their own depression through choices or sin, just as a diabetic may not be following their doctor’s eating plan. But YOU are in no position to make that judgement. Those realizations must come from God if they are needed.

Helpful alternative: I have struggles and brokenness too! God came to us both in our weaknesses and loves us no matter what. 

4. “We were talking about your depression at small group the other day…” You may as well say, Hey- we all sit around gossiping about you and wondering what’s wrong with you! First of all, clearly, don’t gossip. But secondly, be aware that in many circles in the church, Christians feel like they have a second head if they begin to talk about their depression. People get awkward about it. The last thing they need is the feeling that other people are talking about them behind their back.

Helpful alternative: um, how about we just agree to quit talking about people?

5. “Why don’t you just end it all and put us out of this misery?” or “Go ahead and kill yourself instead of always threatening to!” I can only assume these statements were made out of anger or some misguided attempt to prove to the person they really don’t want to kill themselves. Either way this is dangerous at best and hateful at worst. Never, never tell a depressed person their life is not worth living (they already think it) Never imply your life would be better off without them around (they already believe it). Always speak hope, always speak love.

Helpful alternative: I love you, I care about you even if it’s hard to believe that right now. God loves you and cares about you even if you can’t feel it right now.

If you, or a loved one, struggle with depression and are looking for a place to turn, may I recommend a few resources:

Branches Recovery Center Murfreesboro,TN http://www.branchesrecoverycenter.com

Celebrate Recovery  http://www.celebraterecovery.com

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106 responses »

  1. I was diagnosed 3 years ago with complex PTSD stemming from events that transpired during multiple Middle East deployments. Still working with the VA to find the right combination of medicines. Me and Missi, my wife of 25 years, have endured a lot of hardships during our marriage, but my depression, anxiety, rage, nightmares, etc. has been very challenging to say the least. In the beginning, she said and did all the wrong things, it was up to me to tell her what I was thinking and how she could help. She did a lot of research on the subject and bought a lot of books for us to read. We’ve come to the point now where we are able to poke fun at some of the things I said and did. Through all the treatments and medicines, laughter is still the best medicine for us. I love her dearly for that.

    • DARRIN:

      That’s wonderful!

      I was depressed for over a year after our sons were both diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Normally, I am a very positive and optimistic person but the diagnosis really shook me. What got me through it was finding my ability to laugh again. I don’t mean random laughter, I mean laughing at my mistakes as a parent, laughing at the boys’ autism- related antics and laughing with my husband. One day I woke up and realized that God had been there for me the whole time I was angry and depressed and had helped me through it. This, obviously, isn’t a cure-all for everyone but I’m so happy that you and your wife persevered and can laugh again.

      Depression is very real and we have to be sensitive to it as Christian. When the boys were first diagnosed, the most awkward and irritating comments came from fellow Christians!

  2. Pingback: Top Five Worst Comments Christians Make to Depressed Friends | JewelScent Florida Fun & Games

  3. Comments can be so hurtful! In 2007 my husbands job transferred us far away from where I called home. Didn’t know many people. We tried to belong to a small church. My oldest son moved back to where we came from when he graduated, then a month later my mother who raised me died. I went to my pastor grieving so deeply that I wanted to end my life and he told me “if you would excersise and lose weight, you would feel better”! I put weight on from my depression! That shocked me and hurt me to the bone! I still remember that comment!

    • That was a horrible thing that he said to you. One thing that I’ve discovered, is that all people respond to things out of their own junk. Maybe he didn’t have Support when he was younger, we don’t know. I hope that you have a church family now that shows Godly love and support. Blessings to you.

  4. Many years ago when I was in high school, a friend of mine was very depressed and he told a girl he was close to in our social circle. She told him that was stupid and asked how he could possibly be depressed when he had her as a friend and that just knowing her should brighten his whole life. She meant it as a joke so he stopped trying to reach out because she didnt take him seriously. About a month later, he sent her a text message asking for help. He was in a bad way and needed someone to talk him down. In this conversation, he explained in detail how he was going to kill himself. She told him he shouldn’t do that because it’s stupid and a sin and whatever and she didn’t tell anyone. She could’ve told the school counselors, the police, his parents, his friends, anyone, but she didn’t. She just told him it was stupid and joked about it. A week later, he killed himself, exactly the way he had told her he would. No one expected it except this girl and she told people about it about a month after his death when there was an investigation. Turns out, his step dad had been abusing him since he was 8. In his suicide note, he said he killed himself to get attention to save his little brother from the same abuse he suffered because no one would listen when he tried to talk about it. It was a few weeks before his brother’s 8th birthday. If someone had LISTENED to him… if someone had taken the TIME to try to help him, he wouldn’t have felt so sad and so helpless that he wanted to kill himself just to bring attention to what was happening. He tried MORE THAN ONCE to reach out and he was LAUGHED AT. Our society doesnt take depression seriously. We’ve been desensitized by all these “emo” kids who cut themselves for fashion, using their scars as “body art” as if it were a tattoo. Especially in the southern United States, depression in men is looked down upon because Southern men are supposed to be “manly” and “strong” and depression is considered a weakness. I pray that this tragedy with Robin Williams will create genuine conversation about the reality and danger of depression and that people will realize that it is REAL and that even if they personally dont struggle with it, someone they know probably does. It’s our responsibility as humans, and especially as Christians, to offer love, prayer, and support to those who struggle.

  5. I have made so many wrong choices in life and to thos day still regret them. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) God decided he has a better plan for me and is not ready for me at his heavenly table. While I feel the suicides of rich and famous are spoken of too often; I certainly do not mean to make light of their internal struggles and sadness. God help me to say the right words to comfort and console not control. Thank you for giving me more time in this world to get my affairs in order. Amen

  6. Psalm 13. Read it. It was my scripture during my 7 years. I wanted to add that when I was depressed and in HS I told a friend and she said if you were really going to kill yourself you would not do it that way but this way. She was young. I know she didn’t know what she was saying. I must admit though meds did not help but made it worse. It was my Goliath but it was defeated through the Lords help and the Holy Spirit. But it was dark and deep. It lasted 7 years. I cried out to my Lord and he saved me. I am sorry so many of you are experiencing this now. But don’t give up keep fighting! It’s worth it! Jesus healed many even some afflicted with mental issues and I hope and pray to see someday healing in the mental realm not just physical. It is one of my passions. I truly believe it is spiritual warfare. But do it in cooperation with Drs and meds. My indicator was when different meds didn’t work but made me worse. Then I knew only The Lord could deliver and save me. Which is why I love the Psalms! Or the story of Elijah hiding in a cave after defeating Jezebel. Or of Job who lost it all. But I must admit I am tired too of the pat scriptural spiritual answers! It’s good to have friends who are just there for you. But it’s true it’s hard to find one that will stay just like when the disciples fell asleep on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. That’s where I believe my Lord experienced deep depression. He is God’s son but he was also human. I can’t find it at the moment but I must believe that if Jesus came to earth to know what it’s like so he could share in our afflictions then he experienced many things but did not sin.

  7. I went to a seminar called “Overcoming Depression” at my church a few years ago. I was feeling depressed because I felt I kept failing God as a Christian. Well, the first thing the “counselor” told us was, “If you are depressed, you are sinning against God.” Great! The reason I am depressed is because I feel I can’t measure up to God’s expectations, and now she’s telling me the very act of being depressed is ANOTHER failure against God! I really couldn’t focus on much else she had to say after that. I figured there was no hope for me ever pleasing God. I left there more depressed than when I went in. I have come to understand that this is NOT an accurate Biblical assessment of depression. But please do not tell a Christian suffering with depression that she is sinning! Help him/her get the help they need without heaping judgment and condemnation upon them!

    • Hi Carol, That comment was totally wrong. Depression is real, it is a chemical imbalance. It’s not for a pastor to tell someone that they are in sin, that is God’s job. His job is to lead you by example of God’s love for us. I’m so sorry for those hurtful words that were spoken to you.

  8. If we’re being totally honest, “I’m praying for you” isn’t all that helpful either, as it still implies a sort of failing or spiritual lack in the person being prayed for. It also sounds incredibly condescending. Those of us suffering with depression don’t need your prayer so much as we need your understanding. If you’re going to pray for us, do it, but don’t tell us you are.

  9. Most people who are depressed are ashamed for others to know their condition. Don’t make them feel worse by saying hurtful things. Better to keep your mouth shut and pray for them. Depression is worse than any surgery.

  10. That has got to be the most rediculous list I have ever seen. If you changed the list to things People say it would make sense. Tagging Christians with this shows you are just trying to get some hits to your website

  11. My ex was abusing me to the point where I wanted to die. I told the pastor and his response was if I wore make up and fixed my self up and looked good I would feel better and my husband would treat me better. Never forgot that.

    • Hi Bonnie, I hope that you’re not still with that church family. Are you still with that abuser? I hope you were able to get for both a users. That pastor was wrong, so wrong. I’m so sorry that this happened to you. You are truly loved by God, He never meant for you to be hurt. You are loved.

  12. As a mental health professional I think this is a very good post. Depression is a medical condition resulting from chemical imbalance in the brain. Christians and non-Christians alike are victims of this horrible condition. There is help with counseling, medication and support from caring friends and family. Shaming people who seek help or admit to depression and other “problems” perpetuate the problem. If only the Christian community could show compassion and leave their judgement behind…

  13. Enjoyed this but I think the ones I have heard most often are, “God never gives us more than we can handle” and “Put it in His hands and let Him deal with it”. I am a Christian, but left religion because I find it gets in the way of Christianity. I attended church until a couple of years ago. The people at the church, who I thought were my friends, scattered like ‘roaches when the light comes on’ when my wife moved out. I posted some thoughts a year or so ago on a similar topic…Things Christians should not say at a viewing/funeral. Grief in any form is hard. It is a process one has to go through in their own way. When my brother lost his 10 yo daughter, the priest commented at the viewing, “Let’s celebrate that she is in a better place” to him and his wife. I do believe he thought that was somehow comforting, but no parent facing the sudden death of a child, is thinking celebration time! And to be fair, this tendency to say stupid things is not unique to Christians. For most people, trying to say words of comfort/support in most difficult situations does not come naturally. My best advice, let the person know you are there and ready to listen when they want to talk.

    • Wow Patrick I can totally relate to your comment about Christians running like roaches when your wife left…my husband of 16 years left me for our youth minister’s wife and the church turned their backs on me and left me out in the cold to deal with this on my own…I ended up leaving the church and they tried to do church discipline on ME!! Well needless to say God is doing his own Church discipline on that Church, they are barely still going, dwindling in numbers…I am struggling with getting back into church, I have not lost my faith in God but I have lost my faith in “Christians”. Thank you for sharing your story…sometimes you feel like your alone out here. I am sorry that you or anyone else has had this experience…it is a betrayal from the very people that preach Love and Grace…but they are the worst at giving and showing it.

      • Thanks Gloria, and yes, I relate to not losing faith in God, but in religion.church-goers who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Most of my support has come not from ‘friends’ but from total strangers like yourself…and thankfully, they have been there encouraging me and praying for my boys as we make adjustments. The youth ministers wife? That takes some nerve on several levels – hang in there, better days ahead…or so they tell me. 😉

  14. Pingback: Depression | The Complete History of the Universe: A Personal Journey

  15. My son died from injuries suffered in a car accident. He spent 6 months in ICU and I spent those 6 months sleeping on the ICU waiting room floor. I had bad depression after wards and somebody had the nerve to say “Remember you will see him in heaven”.

  16. When my grandma passed away i remember my mom was grieving still a month later. She was seeking comfort from a lady at church and the lady said “I can’t believe you are not over that by now.” It really tore my mom apart and a few weeks later my grandpa committed suicide. My mom did not feel like she could grieve the loss of both of her parents.

  17. Pingback: On Depression, Christianity, Robin Williams, and Social Media | You Have To Pee Joking Me!

  18. My mother struggled with depression for years after her mother killed herself, she made Jesus Lord of her life and spent many hours a week helping others. She invested her life teaching about Christ’s love for us. She knew if her focus was on giving and caring for those in need it would help her mental state. I know people can be insensitive and judgemental as well as uninformed but in all my life I have never heard true loving Christians make any comments like those above.

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