When a mysterious health symptom combined with other stress factors, I spiraled into a time of anxiety and depression. Though functional at a basic level, I felt crippled by distraction, sadness and poor sleep. I lost my appetite and could not find quick answers or relief. With God’s healing through medication and the prayers of those who love me, I slowly recovered over a period of several months.
If you have a friend struggling with anxiety and depression, you may not relate. You may wonder how to help or what to say. These are ways others helped me:
- Offer to spend time with your friend in a way she finds helpful. She may not want to go to a restaurant or have her nails done—though some women struggling with depression do crave a change of scenery. In my case, having a friend go for a walk with me was the best solace. One friend (who has more discretionary time) has helped me rake leaves, shovel snow, prepare and eat lunch, and ride with me to pick up a child from school.
- Your friend may want to talk about her struggles—or not. Follow her lead. My dear friend who came over weekly during an especially difficult time would welcome me to talk about how I was feeling, but only if I wanted to. She understood I got tired of thinking of my own struggles; often I just wanted to hear an update on her family or about a book she was reading.
- Avoid the question, “How are you?” Although it’s a common greeting in our culture, I always felt pressured by this question. I wasn’t okay with NOT being okay, so the question felt like a spotlight on my sadness. Instead, try saying, “It’s good to see you.”
- Do send texts (or cards) telling your friend often you are praying for her. When appropriate, pray out loud together. To me, personal prayer felt like oxygen to a scuba diver.
- Do send a short devotional excerpt about the depth of God’s love or how Jesus identifies with human heartache. I was sustained by thoughtful words of hope. On the other hand, I would not have appreciated pep talks trying to convince me Christians should always be happy.
- Do drop off a dessert or meal (with your friend’s permission). Since emotional struggles often affect appetite, someone else’s cooking may be comforting and easier to eat. For me, an occasional meal from a friend helped me solve the practical problem of feeding my family another day. Because dealing with the next meal or the next task can feel overwhelming to someone who is depressed, a small practical gesture like food means a lot. And few women experiencing depression are likely to contact a Meal Train coordinator.
- Remind your friend that even though it’s hard to imagine right now, brighter days are on the way. Walking in the darkness can make light seem distant and unreachable. Tell your friend to borrow your faith when she can’t feel her own.
- If you know or suspect your friend is having thoughts about harming herself, urge her to get help from a mental health care professional. If you aren’t confident she will seek help, talk to a spouse or her closest relative about your concerns. Her situation may require intervention.
One person’s experience of anxiety and depression will not be the same as someone else’s. Still, your friend will be thankful you are with her in the dark valley. Romans 12:15 tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” When she emerges from the shadows, she will never forget the friends who stayed beside her in the dark.
–Nancy Holliday is the Editor of Sacred Story Ministries.