Monday, March 30, 2015

Dear Linda : : How Do I Help My Depressed Sister?

You ask the question that's weighing on your heart.

I attempt to go there with some encouraging insight ... or maybe a bit of straight talk! 

That's what these monthly Dear Linda posts are all about. 

Relationships, ministry leadership, 

life balance, homekeeping, or other random challenges?

Let's put it right on the table.  

Before you leave today,
please leave a comment with YOUR question
for confidentiality, email me at 

Keep in mind that I'm a board certified pastoral counselor and a certified life coach ...
not a doctor, lawyer, biblical scholar, licensed mental health professional, or miracle worker.

This month ...

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Dear Linda ~

I am navigating through new waters.  My sister is depressed and really struggles with negative thinking.  When she continues to repeat 'I can't' or 'I don't think things will ever be better,' I am so overwhelmed.

What is a helpful way for me to respond?  I don't want to negate her feelings, but I do want to help her not be stuck in them and powerless to move through the day.

~ Overwhelmed in New York


Dear Overwhelmed ~

Bottom line?  Few things in life can be more challenging than caring for someone who is depressed.  It's hard to love another soul who has lost all sense of hope without ending up feeling hopeless and depleted ourselves.

We're not talking about the occasional blues here.  Depression is a complex medical condition that has strong emotional /physical / spiritual / mental health components.  It often descends gradually, can be associated with a number of other illnesses or hormonal imbalances, and may also be a side effect of certain medications.

Depression is often accompanied by unresolved anger turned inward ... or anxiety.  It's a terrifying place to find oneself.

Anger's all about hurt, frustration, fear, or being disrespected.  When these very real pain-filled emotions are continually shoved deep inside and left untended and then combined with a myriad of physical / biochemical maladies, depression can often end up making its way to the forefront.

I know.  I've been there, done that.  Since my own redemptive healing, I have worked with countless women who do battle with this insidious disease.  And yes, with proper ongoing medical care and supportive long term counsel, most go on to live amazing, productive lives.

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1.  Be a safe place for her to fall.
Offer her your faithful, reassuring presence.  Sometimes just being gently present and sitting quietly can be a soothing gift.  Hearing and validating her deep pain lets her know that she's not alone.  Simple responses like, 'yes, I hear you,' can be a great life-giving comfort.

2.  Forget about pat answers, trying to talk her out of her feelings, or attempting to fix the situation. 
Few things are more deeply frustrating to the depressed soul.  This is a dark, complex valley to journey through.  There are no easy answers.  Hope is what she yearns for, yet we need to be discerning when we feel we must say a word.

If the caregiver persists in trying to utilize these three futile no-nos, the ill one is likely to get far worse before she gets better.  And her resentment of your attempts will be yet one more burden that she, and you, have to bear.

3.  Discover what would encourage her, empower her, or give her a sense of peace.
Ask simple questions like 'what can I do for you today?' or 'what one thing would make you feel just a bit better?'  This allows her to verbalize what she needs and can be a step toward empowering her to pursue healing.  If she has no answer, see if she can do a 5 minute walk.  Would like to curl up with a movie.  Or find a foot rub to be relaxing.

4.  Help her pull together a healing team.
Don't go this alone, friend.  With her permission and input, work together to create a healing team to support her.  Only a medical doctor can give a clear diagnosis and be the one to work out a medication plan that will move her ahead.  A trained counselor who can help her unpack her pain and teach her to learn new ways to respond to life's challenges is a must.  A few friends that truly get it, that will go the long haul, can be life-savers.  A pastor with a tender heart?  A massage therapist?  A nutritionist?  A support group?  A creative outlet like art or pet therapy?  Whatever it takes.

Caution - even the most qualified of professionals should not attempt to counsel family or close friends. You are unable to be objective because you're emotionally involved with the person.  And, bottom line, it's unethical.  Period.

5.  Be discerning when using Scripture or bringing God into the situation.
Sadly, too many Christians believe that depression is simply a spiritual issue or that there is always unconfessed sin that must be ferreted out.  This kind of thinking is unrealistic and destructive and does nothing but heap guilt and shame on the one who is already suffering greatly.  Advising against medical intervention or the proper use of medication blatantly disregards the serious physical / biochemical components of this disease.

Lobbing verses at a suffering soul is cruel and a mis-use of God's sacred Word.  Depression is truly the darkest night of the soul.  Be respectful of where she is spiritually and always ask her permission before you share a verse or a prayer.

I encourage my clients to begin to work through the Psalms, just sitting with a verse or two at a time, when they are willing and able. David experienced depression and yet he clung to God for life and worshipped Him wholeheartedly.  Knowing that even 'a man after God's own heart' experienced the lowest of the lows can be a beautiful, healing solace.

6.  ALWAYS pay attention if there's any talk of suicide.
Taking action is always the best choice.  CLICK HERE for the questions to ask, the warning signs to look for, and when to make the call for help.

7.  Do what you need to do to stay healthy yourself.
Stay active, stay sane, live your life.  Beware of becoming totally immersed in your loved one's pain.  Getting the sleep you need, staying far away from junk food, exercising, and spending time with people who are healthy and whole are must-dos.  Continually release your burdens to God.  And get prayer support from others ... without sharing unnecessary details.

And yes, you might want to check in with a counselor / life coach periodically to be sure that you're not accumulating any of your own emotional baggage as you walk through this most difficult valley.

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RESOURCES - click on links

CREEKSIDE POSTS - click on links
finding a Christian counselor

the food / mood link

one woman's journey through her husband's depression


If you've suffered from depression, what's been your lifeline?

If you've been a caregiver, 
what encouraging words do you have for those who find themselves in that role?

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Please share this post with those who need hope.  The links are below.

Linking up with Mary & Holley


  1. Great post today! There is so much to learn about being a support for others who are going through depression and since it has affected my family personally I am always thankful to read advice from professionals like you. I appreciate the outline you have given us above. Hugs friend.

    1. Yep, every family has its challenges, and the larger the family grows, the more people there are to cherish. And yet, we are affected by their pain and sorrow as well as their joys and victories! Supporting each other over the long haul can be oh-so-hard.

      I'm so grateful that some of these words are helpful to you.

      Hope your week is filled with sunlight and laughter, dear friend! Thanks for kicking off this conversation today.

  2. Thanks for the helpful suggestions Linda. As a pastor (but not a licensed counselor) I am faced with this question on a seemingly daily basis. I have noticed that depression is so multi-faceted there is no one simple answer for it. I often feel very inadequate trying to help.

    1. Oh, I know that inadequate feeling, Bill. I think one of the best signs of a good pastor or counselor or people helper is knowing when to refer to someone with more training or expertise or whatever.

      Everyone wins. Especially the one who's suffering.

      Always appreciate your pastoral perspective here, man ...

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this one, Linda! I agree with each and every step and have been on both sides of the fence--so "Get It." After thinking it over--I have not one thing to add to your informative post!
    Bless You, Friend!

    1. Sooner or later, being on both sides of the fence pays off with lots of compassion, empathy, wisdom, and grace, doesn't it.

      I wouldn't be who I am if I hadn't gone through the valley. That's for sure.

      Thanks for hearing my heart, dear friend ...

  4. Linda, this is such a helpful post. We have fought this battle twice on our homefront. I am incredibly thankful for the members of our "healing team" and for friends who stepped into our pain.

    1. A rare gift indeed, Lyli, isn't it, to have friends that not only step into our pain, but stay for the long haul.

      Thank you, thank you, for being here today. It means so much ...

  5. What a blessing you are, Linda, to share your wisdom with us. And you've touched on a difficult, yet important, topic with such love and grace. This is a post that will serve to be a great resource, along with the other ones you have directed us to. Grateful for you. xoxo

    1. You encourager, you! Thanks so much for your kind words. Having walked through the dark night of the soul and remembering my longing for just a few souls to hear and understand has impacted me greatly.

      And yes, I am praying that these words reach the screens and hearts that are in need ...

      Hope all is well ... please know I continue to pray for you and your family, Beth!

    2. Thank you for your continued prayers, Linda. They are felt. xoxo

    3. Praying for more than we can ask or imagine ... He is able!

      He whispers peace, peace ...

  6. Linda,
    How rich this post is with all your insight! Even though I'm not sure why, friends often share their troubling situations with me and I'm often at a loss for words. I want to keep these tips handy and file them away -- especially tip #3 -- I think that one is most helpful in any conversation! Great, great words of wisdom from you, Linda!

    1. This is a hard subject, isn't it. If we don't know someone who's fighting this battle now, we will, sooner or later. Thanks for joining us in this discussion, Valerie. Your friends are blessed to have you by their sides ...

  7. Linda,
    what wonderful advice. Clinical depression is an illness, not a character wrakness. Having suffered from depression and anxiety in my life, I found the combination of medical treatment and good solid Christian counseling frim a counselor versed in anxiety disorders was what helped me the most along with a support network that didn't tell me to just think happy thoughts. Let's erase the stigma. Good stuff here Linda!!

    1. Thanks for stepping up and helping erase that stigma that's still far too prevalent in Christian circles. I so appreciate your words today, Bev ... you are courageous and victorious and that I celebrate!

      Blessings to you, friend. I am so glad you're part of this community.

  8. Such great words, Linda. There is so much pain and sadness in the world, and I am so glad this person wants to be there for her sister. Family and friends can help the healing process!

    1. Yes, family and friends can help the healing process ... or they can be a channel of judgmental discouragement. Please pray with me that this post gets into the right hands and the homes that need to hear these words, Sarah.

      We just weren't created to go through these valleys alone.

      Thanks so much, friend.

    2. I like this "Ask Linda" part of your blog. Great question and really good advice. It's also a good place to assure the person who asked the question that many people they don't know, are now praying for them. You will need a blog on answered prayer next!

    3. Thanks, Marilyn. I really appreciate your support on this, and will pass your assurances of prayer on to our brave question-giver.

      It means alot that you took the time to leave a few words ... I know life is oh-so-busy.

  9. So glad to read this post Linda, it help me a lot. I am dealing with some depression right now, got this not quiet woman in a quiet place. I have chronic insomnia which stems from anxiety. The meds they have been treating me with has not helped, only caused other side affect so I am totally off them now. Which has thrown me into a mild depression. I have struggled with it before but have always been able to come out of it with God's help. Also have my bible study girls praying for me and I just admitted to my husband I was a little depressed, that is alway hard. Of course he knew something was wrong. There are several issue going on in our life that I cannot fix and I believe that is what has got me down. And I think I am over due for a little break, some time to just laugh and enjoy life without others burdens on my mind a lot.
    Again thanks for this post.

    1. Dear Betty ~ I am so thankful that these words came at a good time for you. What a sweet blessing to share what's true about you with your husband and your sisters in Christ and to find that they are supportive and encouraging.

      It's so discerning of you to be able to see that there's things that you just can't fix and that you need a break right about now. I'm grateful that God has given you that wisdom and pray that He'll open the doors wide for you to let go whatever you can and release these burdens to His care.

      I will be praying that you and your doctor can put your heads together to figure out the best way to treat the depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Yep, sadly they can often go hand in hand and it seems like each one kicks the other off. It is all so very exhausting, isn't it.

      You're courageous to share a bit of your story here, and I ask those who hear your heart to join me in prayer for you during this season. If you'd like, please feel free to keep me posted, ok?

      He whispers peace, peace ...

  10. Linda,

    Great points ....I especially appreciate your viewpoint because you speak from personal and professional experience...depression is complex. Too long to go into here, but I can say a variety of different things helped me, like you mentioned in your post....Many blessings to you....and Happy Easter, early :-)

    1. Happy Easter to you, too, Dolly! Praise God that we serve a risen Lord, and that He is very present for us in our times of depression.

      Yes, it's all so complex and there's no 1 - 2 - 3 formula to wholeness. Sounds like the same things that encouraged me have done the same for you. These discussions matter because they let others know that they're not alone in their struggles, and that others have made it and thrive.

      I so appreciate you being a part of this community. Your words make a difference.

  11. Thank you Linda, these suggestions are very helpful. Praying along with people is needful. Sometimes, we may not have the right words to say.
    God bless Linda and enjoy your Easter.

    1. Absolutely! Sometimes we may not have the right words to say ... and that's ok! Often just being still and quiet with another soul is the best gift we can give.

      A blessed Easter to you, Ifeoma. I'm glad you've dropped by today!

  12. Bless you, Linda, for this post. As church secretary, I often have people drop into the office during the week who seem to be clinically depressed and just want a bit of solace. (I must confess it can be very frustrating for me sometimes- and I have been praying lately for wisdom in handling my daily visitors. He is faithful, as I came across this blog just today. God is good!) You have given me great insight on how to minister to these poor, sad souls.
    May He bless you tremendously for the work you do. ~Diane Valentine

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation, Diane! Your roll in church leadership is so vital, for you represent the gracious open door that people long for as they make their way into the church.

      May I encourage you to work with other leaders in creating a list of professionals to refer your people to? It will ease your load considerably and give you peace in knowing that you are doing what you can for those who are in pain.

      Click on the 'finding a Christian counselor' link in the post for how-to's.

      Blessings as you minister. And welcome to Creekside!


  13. Dear Linda,

    This is a must-read. You've woven the major (and subtle) issues of depression together into a rich tapestry. May it cover and comfort the many who suffer from this debilitating disease.

    To the author of this "Dear Linda": You're not alone. I suffered for years watching my identical twin struggle with depression, only to realize that, I, too, was sick with the illness myself. Over the years, whenever I've felt well enough to help my sister, I've found that simply reminding her, in the dark times, that "this is the depression talking" (not "her") and that it will pass (which it will), is extremely helpful. Being mindful of your sister's healing plan -- medications, counselors, etc. -- is another key. If you see her symptoms worsening, encourage her to call her doctor -- even be willing to dial for her (with her permission, of course), if she's too sick in bed to reach for the phone (I've done this more than once, with good results). Lastly, simply passing the time -- "riding out the waves" of a depressive episode, as a friend of mine once said -- is crucial to guiding her to a better place. Avoiding any major decisions or heavy conversations during these times, no matter how tempting, is extremely wise.

    Linda: Thank you for helping me -- and both of us -- out of our depression and into the light! You're reaching countless others, God bless your heart!

    Much love to you and our sisters-in-depression...

    There is hope,

    1. You're a sweetheart! Thank you for bravely sharing a piece of your story ... it has been an honor to walk with you and your sister along the way, to see God's healing hand raise each of you up to a radiant wholeness. What a wonderful Great Physician we love and serve!

      Blessings to you and to your sister. And may your Easter celebration bring you the greatest of you!

  14. This is spot on, my friend! Excellent advice--especially the part about dispensing Bible verses, thinking it's a spiritual ailment and not trying to fix it!

    1. Yeah, the whole lobbing of verses, seeing depression only as a spiritual concern, and the obsession with fixing it are very real responses by people who are scared at what they're seeing in the life of someone they care about.

      There is a better way. The way of grace, of discernment, of stillness, of wisdom.

      Thanks for coming by, Anita. May you have an Easter filled with joy!

  15. Dear Linda, I have been depressed before I knew I was. Mine is a combination of low serotonin, SAD (light) , lack of regular exercise, anxiety, stress, guilt and worry. It started probably after our car wreck with a drunk driver. It killed him, my Grandpa, and messed up my Grama, Mom & Dad, and 2 sisters. I wasn`t hurt then but didn`t bond with my Mom as she was usually spending time with my middle sister-she has had many surgeries. We fought most of our lives until we both were married. I had no scars except I always feel alone and still do now. A few years ago I started taking Lexapro and it helped me to not cry and sleep all the time. I`ve always read self-books to try to be happier and to know people love me. It has made me a strong person, we are close now but it`s being repeated in my sisters family and her daughter and her aren`t communicating. I retired at 62 from a stressful job, spending more time with my family and my husband in nursing home (ALS-Lou Gehrigs) for 4 years. Since I have a lot of free time I`ve been doing a lot of Bible study,searching lots of good Christian sites. Please pray for my sister, Linda and her daughters.

    1. Dear Verlette ... your first line is true of many of us who have struggled with depression --> 'I have been depressed before I knew I was.' I hope that this post offered you a bit of encouragement.

      It's good that you found a medication that works for you. I'd encourage you to find a good counselor to help you work through the challenges that you've mentioned. There's a link back up there in the post.

      Blessings as you walk toward healing.


Welcome to the table, friend!

This is where we gather and hang out. I'd love for you to pull up a chair and jump right into the conversation. Or simply say 'hello.'

l'll be dropping in to visit you sometime soon ...


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