It’s that time of year that is festive and bright. Streets are adorned with holiday lights, and mailboxes stuffed with cards and letters from friends throughout the years. Trees are carefully decorated with twinkling lights, carefully placed tinsel, ornaments tucked with precision from top branches to lowest boughs, and perfectly wrapped packages topped with shimmery bows. Parking lots are full, and shops stay open late to accommodate the after work shopper stopping in to pick up the perfect gift. Full calendars testify to holiday events from Christmas parties to concerts and tree lighting ceremonies. Music in shopping malls, car radios, and even grocery stores offer hopes of merriment, peace, and goodwill. Even normal television programming gives way to shows about reindeer, talking snowmen, and families reuniting with promises of “happily ever after.”
While on the outside, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” are offered in ready supply, not all are feeling the holiday cheer. In fact, for many, it’s a time of great despair and loneliness. The holidays are not always merry and bright, and depression is a very real experience for many.
I’m often asked how does one effectively walk along side one who is depressed? Especially during the holidays?
Jesus said, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).
At Christmas, or any other day, when we seek to honor Him, we need only to reach out to those who are lost, broken or hurting, and it pleases Him.
But practically, what does that look like when someone is depressed?
Here are some practical tips both for what to do and what not to do to support someone who is struggling with depression.
Because the holidays are hard and often prompt or exacerbate depression for many, when you know that the holidays are specifically a factor in their depression, engage with them but avoid holiday themed events. Spend time together outside of holiday parties or venues that are heavily decorated. Eliminate the stress of a gift exchange because that adds stress, expectation, and guilt if they aren’t able to reciprocate.
On the other hand, when you know someone is alone during the holidays, and that contributes to their depression, include them in your celebrations. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have them over while your family opens their gifts –that could be awkward and make them feel uncomfortable. But you could invite them to join you at your Christmas eve service or when you go caroling.
Keep your expectations minimal. For someone battling depression, normal every day activities can seem overwhelming. Honor this and keep your expectations to a minimum. Meet them where it is convenient for them, and offer to help where you can.
While you may not be able to relate to depression if you haven’t gone through it yourself, respect and honor their feelings. Understand that depression is a medical condition just like diabetes or heart disease. Know that no one chooses to feel this way.
Be sensitive to the topics that are painful to them and focus your conversation elsewhere. For example, sometimes the holidays exacerbate depression because of grief or loss of family members. Some individuals will feel a sense of comfort talking about their lost family, while others will feel heightened sadness by this. In the latter, engage them in conversation about less painful topics such as their hobbies or work.
Depression fuels loneliness. Be a wingman for them. To support a friend or loved one who is struggling with depression doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything special—just be there. Sit with them. Be available. Include them in your gatherings, but understand if they decline. Show respect. Love with compassion.
When someone is struggling with depression, especially during the holidays, do not judge or criticize. God is the only one who should be in that position. If you’ve never walked that path, it’s hard to truly understand how painful the suffering is. Extend grace and compassion.
Additionally, avoid comparison. It’s rarely helpful to someone struggling with depression for their situation to be compared to someone else’s. In truth, it doesn’t matter how anyone else fared, because they are still hurting.
Avoid minimizing their pain. Whatever you do, don’t convey that what they are going through isn’t that bad or could be worse. When you’re in the valley of depression, it feels like about the worse thing you can imagine and to suggest otherwise is just plain insensitive.
Before spending time with one who is struggling with depression, pray. Pray for them, and pray to have mercy and grace toward them and their situation. All any of us wants is to be loved, accepted, and considered worthy. Yet depression has a way of coloring one’s perspective and lying to them. Pray for an ability to show truth through your words and deeds.
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 NLT).
While we cannot be responsible for someone else’s emotional well-being, we can be the hands and feet of Jesus, showing the same love and compassion He would show. While not wrapped in paper or topped with a perfect bow, that just may be the best gift you offer to anyone this Christmas.
Because of Him,
(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)