How do I help someone with anxiety and/or depression? part 3

Dealing with depression and anxiety is tricky in that whoever is struggling needs to start seeing that they aren’t in a good place for trusting their own thoughts. They aren’t fully functional. Depression and anxiety are often so crippling that the simplest tasks seem and may be impossible. So, in working through things, loved ones, friends, and counselors have to realize that the depressed frame of mind means good decision-making is often impossible.

Now, this is really some odd stuff. When things are “normal” we usually make our own decisions. Decision-making becomes the most natural of habits. But, when someone is ill, depressed, overly-anxious, paranoid, or incapacitated, then someone else – to some extent or another – must stop trusting themselves and start trusting the people that really love them. This is actually true across the board, which is why there is such a thing as “medical advice” and “power of attorney.”

Of course, this recalls the great line by Groucho Marx (actually, Chico playing Groucho), “Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”. But, perhaps the beginning of this famous folk story is even more helpful: Chicken Little likes to walk in the woods…One day while she is walking an acorn falls from a tree, and hits the top of her little head.  “My, oh, my, the sky is falling. I must run and tell the lion about it,” says Chicken Little and begins to run. She runs and runs. By and by she meets the hen. “Where are you going?” – asks the hen. “Oh, Henny Penny, the sky is falling…” Chicken Little is fine until the acorn triggers her depression, anxiety, and paranoia. And, things end badly for poor Chicken Little because no one persuades her that the sky isn’t falling. She’s delusional, but, leaning on her own understanding, she never realizes that she’s delusional.

For Christians, there is always someone to turn to in the midst of depression, anxiety, and paranoia. And, He always reminds us that we are not to trust ourselves, but to trust Him. He reminds us that when we think the sky is falling, the sky is just fine – that when we think everything is unhinged, it isn’t – that when we think nothing will ever get better, we’re delusional. The sun shines warmly even when hidden by dark cold clouds. And He often uses counselors, friends, pastors, and loved ones to reach into lives and gently say, “I know you think the sky is falling, but it’s just a passing acorn.”

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones. – Proverbs 3:5-8 

How do I help someone with anxiety and/or depression? part 2

Reading biography is a tremendously useful way to help enter the worlds of others. You find that many many men and women, many many great men and women – often the greatest – have an Achilles’ Heal of depression. Here is an example from William Manchester’s magisterial biography of Winston Churchill (who is the human reason why the Nazi’s lost WWII):

All his life [Winston Churchill] suffered spells of depression, sinking into the brooding depths of melancholia, an emotional state which, though little understood, resembles the passing sadness of the normal man as a malignancy resembles a canker sore. The depressive know what Dante knew: that hell is an endless, hopeless conversation with oneself. Every day he chisels his way through time, praying for relief. The etiology of the disease is complex, but is thought to include family history, childhood influences, biological deficiencies, and–particularly among those of aggressive temperament–feelings of intense hostility which the victim, lacking other targets, turns inward upon himself…Depression is common among the great; it may balance their moods of omnipotence. Among its sufferers have been Goethe, Lincoln, Bismarck, Schlumann, Tolstoy, Robert E. Lee, and Martin Luther….We first encounter Churchill‘s awareness of his illness in a letter, written when he was twenty, complaining of ‘mental stagnation’ and a ‘slough of despond.’….”What a creature of strange moods he is,’ Max Aitken…wrote, ‘always at the top of the wheel of confidence or at the bottom of an intense depression.’ In times of disappointment, rejection, or bereavement, feelings of hopelessness overwhelmed him. Thoughts of self-destruction were never far away. He told his doctor: ‘I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand back and if possible to get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything.’ He also disliked sleeping near a balcony. He explained, ‘I’ve no desire to quit this world, but thoughts, desperate thoughts, come into the head.’  – Manchester’s The Last Lion, pp. 23-24

As Christians, we must always be profoundly aware, even amazed, at the depth and complexity of men and women made in God’s image. “For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep!” Psalm 64:6.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet captures this so well, “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”

How do I help someone with anxiety and/or depression?

You have to start by entering their world. Scripture, over and over, treats us as a body & soul combo. You cannot underestimate the body-side or the soul-side of.  anxiety and depression. Always remember the first words of Heidelberg Catechism #1: “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” This means, among other things, that there will be spiritual remedies (like reminders to confess sin then trust in the assurances of God’s forgiving grace through Jesus Christ) and physical remedies (including things like melatonin for a better night’s sleep or even prescriptions from a trusted doctor). Notice how St. Paul advises Timothy along these lines, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments,” 1 Timothy 5:23.

I have found this little narrative so helpful. It is from President George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points, pp. 45-46 (no judging the source, just learn from it!):