Working Through Depression As a Team: What to Do and Not to Do with Your Friend’s Mental Health

@cindahh asked a question:

Hi J.S. Park! I hope you and your wife doing well! I just wanted to thank you again for your book. It has given me a better understanding of depression. So I read it because my good friend battles it, and as someone who is helping him battle it, what are some of the things your wife helped you with; how does she support you? How does she snap you out of it? How does she help you be hopeful? What techniques does she use? What does she say? Are there any “don’t do’s?” What’s the most helpful? I would like to get a better understanding on how I can be there for my friend. I really appreciate it.

Hey dear friend, thank you for this question. It’s a super difficult one.

I have to say upfront: Even the most loving person in the world cannot fully help someone who wrestles with mental illness. Clinical depression will often do whatever it wants, regardless of medicine or therapy or a strong community (all which I strongly recommend, by the way).

While we’re called to love others as much as we can stand it, we cannot be responsible for someone’s actions. That’s too much weight to carry. We cannot save everyone, including ourselves sometimes.

I’ve come across two opposing views on supporting someone through depression.

One essentially says, “Do everything you can. Have empathy for their trauma and pain. Love despite it all. Love will eventually win. Research ways to help. Intervene. Always be there for them. People who leave are cruel and cowards.”

The other says, “Practice boundaries and self-care. Refer them to an expert. Admit when you can’t handle it. Keep a safe distance. You can’t pour out what you don’t have.”

My wife has embraced both of these, in different seasons, depending on her needs and mine.

No one can be everything for everyone. But no one should instantly run away either (excluding cases of abuse). We need a safe middle ground that covers both people involved.

To love someone through their mental illness requires a specific patience that many people don’t have. It’s not because they’re bad or anything. Some just can’t stick around because they themselves have too much going on. I can’t be mad at that, or them.

At the same time, some sneak out the second it gets too hard. I think that’s unfair. At the very least, we should go a little beyond what’s asked of us, whether that means going with someone to one of their counseling sessions, bringing them food, or watching a movie with them that they pick (even if it’s something you’d never watch). These things sound simple, but an accumulation of these things mean the world.

For me, I lean towards the view that people should stick around and help. I know there are situations they absolutely shouldn’t. But I hear stories all day long (at the hospital and with the homeless) where no one ever stayed. Maybe it was because the person left behind made too many poor choices, or they were abusive, or they were not willing to be helped. I can almost understand why they were left behind. But in so many cases, it seems like friends, family, and spouses walked away too early. In the end, it’s a strong community which we need for life, and it’s one of the points of living.

To answer you specifically about how my wife helps me:

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Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage


The Meaning of Marriage
By Timothy Keller

Summary:
We know marriage is in trouble. Pastors and Christian authors are stepping forward to save the day. Tim Keller, author of the renown The Reason For God, Counterfeit Gods, and Generous Justice, writes an ambitious and straightforward work on biblical marriage. With a gospel-driven, Christ-centered approach, Dr. Keller’s crisp, clear voice is easily accessible and insightful. Along with Dr. Keller’s wife Kathy, they have written a practical, powerful work on the great gift of marriage.

Strengths:
This could have been a cakewalk for Dr. Keller. He could have roundly quoted C.S. Lewis and some well known poems, conjure sound commentary on Ephesians 5, and say some profound things about the duties of a husband and wife. It really would have been that easy for him. Many readers are familiar enough with Dr. Keller to instantly recognize his writing voice and his penchant for classic quoting. It could also have been a call to Christian idealism, a list of you ought to and you should do tacked onto the gospel.

While Dr. Keller does some of these things, I felt his gritty real life experience bleed through the pages. Dr. Keller’s passion is alive in this work; not since Counterfeit Gods have I seen him this personally invested into his subject. This isn’t only from his own thirty-six year marriage but from having been in the trenches with hurting singles, broken marriages, and dying families. He has seen how secular culture and the Hollywood mentality has overwhelmed the thinking of our gullible world. The first chapter alone is a visceral tour of the corruption of marriage and families, with hard statistics and full-on truths. He never waters it down. “I’m tired of listening to sentimental talks on marriage,” he begins. So are we.

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