7 Things Christians Shouldn’t Say to Someone Who’s Depressed

In light of Robin Williams’ passing, I’m re-releasing this blog post on depression.

When I was a senior in college, I struggled with depression.

It started as a deep gray feeling, then widened and darkened into a black abyss. I lived with five of my college friends, but felt all alone. It got so bad I dropped out of school and entered treatment.

The doctors said I had suffered from low grade depression for years. I don’t know if this was true, but it’s what they said. Apparently I had a knack for coping. But this current season of depression, this slick and slippery downward spiral that threatened my entire world, was beyond coping. I wanted to kill myself.

I’m better now. It’s 14 years later. In the course of my depression, lots of people tried to help. I know their heart was right. But sometimes, their words were not.

Following are seven things that Christians shouldn’t say to someone who’s depressed. (No blame here—I said some of these things to others myself.)

1. Just pray more.

Oh, my lack of praying was the cause of my depression. And my prayerlessness was the reason I couldn’t find my way out. When I was depressed, I couldn’t hold a firm thought. And I had serious doubts about my relationship with God. I didn’t know what he thought of me. Part of me didn’t care. I tried to pray, but it didn’t seem to do any good.

Better: I’m praying for you.

 

2. If you have abundant life, you don’t have a reason to be depressed.

Some people think that if you’re saved, and therefore have abundant life, then you have no excuse to be depressed. If your soul is right with God, that’s all you need. But depression is an illness. And while you live on this earth, you’ll deal with illnesses. If your friend comes down with the mumps, you don’t say, “You can’t have mumps—you’re a Christian!”

Better: I know God wants to walk this with you, that’s abundant life.

 

3. It’s not a good witness if you’re depressed.

Christians are supposed to be joyful and victorious, right? What does it say about Christianity if its followers are not? Doesn’t that make for a bad witness? I don’t think so. I think the world is looking for people who are authentic in their struggles. Facing challenges is common ground. Authenticity holds incredible value. Who wants a plastic, puffed up Christian? I’d rather see one who bleeds.

Better: We can all benefit from seeing a Christian deal with depression in a real way.

 

4. Just cast the demon out, go on medication, or get counseling—and move on.

We’d all like a quick fix. But I believe that depression can have a variety of concurrent influences–demons, chemical influences, false belief systems and emotional wounds. The depressed person is a whole person—spirit, soul, and body—so treat him or her as such. My recovery centered on all three.

Better: There are probably multiple influences, so consider a holistic recovery plan.

 

5. You just need to get around more people.

When I was feeling incredibly lonely, the answer was not to get around more people. Like somehow being around more people would snap me out of it. I’d finally find whatever I was missing in this crowded space. But actually, I felt more alone in a crowd. Instead, I needed to not have to explain myself another time. I needed a few people with whom I could feel safe and protected. There’s a difference between isolating from everyone and choosing a few supporters.

Better: You deserve the space you need, but who are your supporters?

 

6. Can’t you just be joyful and grateful?

Umm, easier said than done, especially when you can’t remember when you last felt this thing called joy and you’re convinced you’ll never feel grateful again. Not when it takes all your energy to lace your shoes for the day and to remember how to drive the way you have driven one hundred times before. Choosing joy and gratefulness is challenging for the most enlightened and most holy that are at their best, how is it for those who are barely clinging to reasons not to drive themselves into the concrete lane divider?

Better: I believe things will get better for you—that’s not joy or gratefulness, that’s hope.

 

7. Lame Christian clichés like, “Let go and let God,” “God helps those who help themselves,” and “Everything happens for a reason.”

These statements might work well on a greeting card, but not for normal discourse. When a well-intentioned friend sprung one on me, it just made me mad. How could one statement be the answer to the heart-wrenching, soul-turning, life-sapping struggle I was facing? It seemed like the golden advice made them feel better, but made me feel worse. And inside I registered that friend as unsafe.

Better: I don’t have many answers, but I will listen or just sit with you.

If you’re supporting someone who’s depressed, let me get you off the hook. They’re probably not looking for you to solve their problems or make it go away. They’re probably just looking for you to love them gently and patiently. So do that and avoid statements that might make you feel good, but will push them away.

Chris believes you can love your work. He's the Vice President of Human Resources for EnergyCAP, Inc., where he helps employees to succeed. He's also a Certified Professional Life Coach and a Certified Gallup Strengths Coach. He loves to coach people, write, and speak around the topics of engagement, coaching, strengths, and growth. He blogs often at ChrisHeinz.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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36 thoughts on “7 Things Christians Shouldn’t Say to Someone Who’s Depressed

  1. “I love you. I care.” But more importantly, show the love in many ways. Some may need some time to be together in nature, others time to talk etc. But mainly just being there is most important- really being present. (with love, patience, non-judgement and countless other virtues) Like you said, listening without trying to fix by giving advise, trying to make it go away, posing distractions, disbelieving what a loved one says, frustration/anger or deniel. Another thing to say: “I’m here with you”

    • Good one, Rachelle! And I like your idea of personalizing your response to the person. Not everyone will value walking in nature, but some will. I suppose love is best when given, not just spoken. Thanks for reading and commenting! See you soon!

  2. I don’t know that we all need teaching or more information so much as we need to know someone else has gone through what we’re going through, that they care, and there is hope for getting through.

  3. Thanks Chris for your honesty! What helped me most was when someone said, “God is not going anywhere and neither am I.” Just knowing that someone would be there when I was able to talk (which is easier said than done as you mentioned) AND reassuring me that God will not abandon me, was a blessing.

  4. This is great! Depression is a living hell. But all of the tips you gave for approaching someone with depression are very good; my mom helped me so much through my depression and she always approached me with the “I’m here to listen and be here for you” mentality, and I can say first-hand that that made all the difference.

    • Dave, I’m glad I met you, thanks for shining the light. Depression is tough, but I’m sure it added to who you are. Your mom sounds wise and wonderful. Have a great summer, looking forward to seeking the LORD together in the fall.

  5. I too suffer from clinical depression, Chris. One of the most insightful, helpful things a friend said to me was: “I don’t understand this, but, I know what it’s like to not feel “right” in your own skin. Is that kind-of how depression feels to you? When I said, yes, that’s part of it at times, he said: “then, I have no more advice, I’m praying for you, I’m here, I’m ‘with’ you, please let me be here for you!” The friend who said this to me is young enough to be my biological son–but, the wisdom in his words just astounded me, it was SO refreshing! He didn’t question my faith, level of comittment to God, etc., he just said, “please let me be here for you!” Talk about a safe friend! May I be the same to others. 🙂

  6. Great encouragement, expressions of the heart of and thoughts of many who will read this; affirming truth, providing hope.

  7. I feel that perhaps, I have at some points in time struggled with some sorts of mild depression in my life. I have felt overwhelmed. In those times, it has been the few close friends that I could trust that had helped pull me through those rough spots. I had never really thought of the best ways to approach this with others who may be affected the same or greater types of depression than I may have perhaps experienced, and I really found this article insightful as it touched a chord with me. Thank you for so reminding me of these things so I may better remember how to serve others going through these times in their lives.

  8. After the birth of my second son, I suffered from severe post-partum depression. I, too, had some very hurtful things said to me by Christians (who were well-meaning, but uneducated about depression).

    1. Go see a movie, shop with a girlfriend–just pop out of it.
    2. Are you sure this isn’t some overblown need to be coddled?
    3. Taking medication for depression is 1) wrong or 2) shows a lack of faith in God to heal you.

    Instead, those who helped me the most said things like:

    1. You’re not alone. I know it may take a long time for things to get better–I’m here for you however long it takes.
    2. I know that even the simplest tasks can seem monumental when you’re depressed. Can I help you with cooking meals, cleaning, doing laundry, watching your children, running errands?
    3. There’s nothing wrong with taking medication for depression. Your brain chemistry is out-of-balance. Just like a diabetic needs insulin to keep blood sugar in balance, medication for depression can restore balance to your brain chemistry.

    I will never forget two ladies in my church who helped me with a seemingly simple thing. I was having terrible trouble eating without my stomach getting upset. Friends were bringing meals to the house, but I couldn’t eat most of what was brought–except for some ginger cookies one woman made and a baked potato dish another woman made. For almost a month, those two women kept making those for me and bringing them over. There was no condemnation or judgement for only being able to eat those two things. “If that’s all that keeps your stomach settled, we’ll keep making them.”

    Since then, it’s been my privilege to do the same for other women who suffer from this . . . and others with non-postpartum depression. It’s all the same thing, no matter what triggers it. Just to know that you’re not alone, that others have gone through this and understand and that people care goes a long way . . . until the light in the tunnel comes back on.

  9. Great writing Chris and I look forward to reading your blog in the future. As a suicide survivor I think your words are poiignant not only for Christians but for anyone who encounters someone who they may feel is depressed. Look for the warning signs and don’t be afraid to ask the difficult question, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”. If you get an answer that is anywhere close to yes it is your responsibility as a friend, as another human being who loves life, to reach out to that person. They can’t do it but their tiny voice crying for help is the signal that they want and need help. The stigma around depression is ingrained in our societal norms. It is a disease much like diabetes and cancer. Relect that in your speech and you will help to remove the stigma that stops so many for reaching out for help.

  10. Timely for me. The sense of hopelessness and depression hit me like a wave the last couple of days. It’s very real…..

  11. What about things like “you just need more faith” or “are you sure you’re saved” both of which I’ve heard and found to be incredibly hurtful

  12. Excellent thought gone behind this article. So much of our Christianese speak is damaging. I write about this in my book: “Suicidal Christians” where I tackle the reality that some Christians reach the end of their tether.

  13. Thanks for this artilcle. I am depressed for more than 15years. These are the most hurtful words to a person going thur depression. This usually comes from the persons who are close to you. These words can push you off the brink.

  14. Great words of advice Chris! Thanks for addressing this illness. My first wife and I had a very difficult marriage of ~9 years. As things took a turn for the worst my heart was a train wreck, and I found myself unable to pray. Sometimes in the middle of the night I would get in my truck and drive to my church and just sit in the parking lot for a while hoping that a miracle would happen. Many times I would put the bible under my pillow, or place my hand on it on the night stand before falling asleep. God new I was trying to connect even though I was not leading the life he wanted me too. I believe that HE worked through my family (especially my DAD) and friends to help me through, and get a grip on the life GOD wants for me. Thank you Lord Jesus!

  15. This is so good Chris. My entire life I never struggled or had any type of depression, but about two years ago, I succumbed to what I call minor depression. I stopped caring about anything, I was apathetic about life and I quit seeing the point in anything I did. For a year and a half, I just existed. I did pull myself out of it with God’s help. I recently found that I am good friends with dozens of women who suffer with severe and/or clinical depression and I realize it is an actual disease. I never would have understood that five years ago. This post was insightful and helpful to me. Thank you!

  16. Thank-you for sharing this again, Chris. It still rings true-God doesn’t love me or anyone else less even when I/we’re really feeling our depression. Depression in men, especially men 50 & older is SO overlooked in our society, we need to be that safe friend for our brothers and sisters who struggle. Thanks again & many blessings!

  17. Looking forward to your visit. Perhaps this time I can teach you “How to not use a hammer like a girl”. Oh, by the way, I’ll show you why I’m in the 25 percent who’s happy with his prayer life.

  18. Cognitive behavioral therapy works the best. A person can be trained to examine the thoughts that intensify the suffering and at the very least take the dangerous edge off. At best depression can be almost completely eliminated when a person unearths and challenges deepen false assumptions that contribute to it. Dr David Burns has free videos on You tube and wrote “Feeling Good the New Mood Therapy.” a must read for anyone wishing to fight this illness.

  19. Okay, I’m not a Christian. However, I was drawn to this article – which I saw posted on an ex-Jehovah’s Witness group page on Facebook – because of the bit about depression. I have suffered from it myself. My younger brother, sadly, took his life last year because of mental illness. I have a very close friend who suffers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), whom I’ve supported and still support through her lowest times. She said to me last year that I’d saved her life.

    Anyway, this article really did resonate with me. I’ve heard a lot of these comments in various different wordings. It seems that it’s not just Christians who can pass out such cutting and insensitive statements.

    However, regardless of what religion you are or the depressed person is, they just need to know that you’re there for them. And if you say you’re there for them, then BE there for them. Cry with them, if they need that. Show empathy and fellow human kindness. And never be judgemental, either outwardly nor inwardly.

    Depression and other mental illnesses are like a kind of emotional cancer. And sufferers just need kindness, empathy and understanding.

    Anyway, thank you for a beautiful and touching article. Very well written. Big thumbs up. 🙂