Susan came from an emotionally and physically abusive family. As a teen she thought she found the perfect guy, who promptly left her when she became pregnant. With virtually no support system, Susan vowed to raise her son on her own and do the very best job she could. She worked hard. Nothing seemed to come easy for them. Life was about survival, and not much more. Finally her son got married and was on his own.
Susan had made a few good friends by this time and let her guard down just enough to fall in love with a man she thought God Himself had sent to her door. Tears spilled down Susan’s face as she described how difficult it had been to let down her guard with this man and risk vulnerability. She prayed all along that God would make it clear if it was not meant to be. Because no doors closed, she continued to open herself up and ventured to dream of a future with this man, a future she had previously denied herself. A year before Susan met me, the relationship ended. The man Susan had finally let herself love declared he was gay and ended the relationship.
This was the final straw for Susan. She closed herself off from everyone and her anger quickly turned to bitterness. She was irritable, sad, and isolated. She presented a rough and abrasive exterior, to the point that no one wanted to get close and see what was really going on below the surface. Susan clearly was depressed. By her own admission Susan “ate” her feelings, which resulted in her being significantly overweight, which did not help her already low feelings of self-worth.
See Life Had Not Turned Out as She Had Anticipated for additional insights into depression and more of Susan’s story.
Susan, with input from those who cared, made the wise decision to see a licensed counselor. Chantelle Dockter, who practices in a local church office, admits “Much to my surprise, Susan kept her next appointment, and continued to come to counseling each week. After the first few visits, she stopped saying her usual mantra of ‘You can’t help me, nobody can, not even God. Nobody cares and I am worth nothing to anyone.’ As Susan’s story unfolded, I began to understand why she was so protective and defensive.”
More on Susan later…
Chantelle Dockter continues, “It certainly helps to have an understanding of what depression is and a picture of what the depressed woman faces daily. Shepherds can have a great impact on those who are in the pain of depression. To enhance the positive impact, take note of the following list of helpful insights.” I’ve summarized her list for our purposes.
Helpful Things to Say and Do
1. DO acknowledge that the depression exists. Caregivers, family, and friends may want to ignore what they are not comfortable dealing with and this can lead to feelings of shame and isolation for the depressed individual. Encourage her to have a physical check up
2. DO validate feelings. Although the depressed individual may not see her world or circumstance clearly, her feelings of pain are real and should be validated.
3. DO assist the woman in seeing that she may be depressed, but that the depression itself does not define her. She is not the disease; rather she has the disease and is in the process of fighting it.
4. DO ask if the person is suicidal. Some shepherds worry that by asking they will plant the idea in a depressed person’s mind that was not present previously. This simply is not true. If the woman was thinking about it, then asking the question can open the doorway of communication and the appropriate intervention can be accessed.
5. DO refer the individual for professional help, and if appropriate, suggest she meet with a pastor. The recommendation to involve professional helpers is vital so the depressed individual does not burn out her natural support system (family and friends) and end up feeling even more alone in the end. No matter what professional resources are accessed, the depressed woman will benefit from a shepherd/caregiver as a major player in her support team.
6. DO encourage self-care. Self-care can include eating well, sleeping enough, exercising consistently, getting fresh air/sunlight, and investing time in hobbies.
7. DO check in with the individual consistently. This assures her that you care. This comes with a caveat: caregivers need to make sure they have appropriate boundaries. A care team may expand this possibility further.
8. DO stay positive, hopeful, and encouraging. A shepherd can be the surrogate for hope until the person gets there herself. Be a gentle, broken record when it comes to repeating positive and encouraging messages.
9. DO pray for and with the depressed individual. Prayer not only is a call to involve Jesus Christ, but is also therapeutic and calming in the process. Dockter says, “I have never had a client who has declined prayer when offered in session, whether she is a believer or not.”
Next time we will give some strategic “Don’ts” plus the final chapter in our story of Susan.
(Taken from Chapter 6, “Depression” by Chantelle Dockter, licensed professional counselor who specializes in women’s issues, in Shepherding Women in Pain.)