MENTAL HEALTH TIPS: Reaching Out to A Depressed or Sick Loved One

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Galations 6:2

Do you feel helpless when it comes to reaching out to a loved one who is depressed or in crisis? Me too.  The older I get, the more often I find myself in a position where I am at a loss as to know what to do. I wrestle with God. Read my Bible. Beg Him for wisdom and still feel inadequate. But, isn’t that when we see Him the most powerfully? In our weakness.

I have a friend who underwent traumatic surgery for an aggressive form of cancer.  I was so scared for her. I felt helpless. I offered assistance in various ways. Can I run your sweeper? No. Can I do laundry? No. Sometimes she’d let me empty and load her dish washer when she was dozing off. Once she allowed me to cut a few veggies for her child’s favorite soup because she really wanted to be able to make it. She always let me bring food. I found something! Yay. Mostly she just wanted me to come visit her, I think. I’d sit there with her as she dozed off sometimes saying nonsensical things under the influence of her pain meds which we’d laugh about together. Other times she challenged me with hard statements.  Often she’d ask even more difficult questions…never for herself. It was always worries for her family and how they’d get along without her. I didn’t know how to answer.  I wanted to say wise things to comfort her but I didn’t want to recite tired clichés and meaningless “Hallmarky” phrases.  So, I just listened. And, the whole time, I’d be yelling at God in my head. “Lord, you promise to give me your words when I need them.” Or, “God, where is my counselor, the Holy Spirit, whose supposed to be urging me on what to do or say for my friend?”  Fast forward, two years, she’s now a cancer survivor and I am at a woman’s retreat with her (Praise God!).  The topic of the retreat is the Holy Spirit. My friend shares about her time going through cancer, the people who were there for her, and the comforting things various friends said. Including me!!! I was shocked. God pulled back the curtain a tiny bit for me to show that He answered my prayers. He was enabling me to say what was needed even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I share this story with you because you may shy away from a depressed, isolating, or ill loved one because you think that you aren’t equipped and don’t know what to do.  Even if you feel you aren’t being helpful or you think your loved one isn’t hearing you, you may still be making a difference and God can still be using you.

Instead of becoming incapacitated by lack of knowing what to do, take action.  I asked our Executive Director, Ron Barnes, for a few tips on how to reach out to a loved one during the holidays. He shared the following:

  1. Pray for wisdom regarding your friend and how you can help.
  2. Stay present. He can work through you whether you realize it or not.
  3. Don’t take it personally when your loved one is abrupt or negative.  Be willing to accept no as an answer but keep the lines of communication open. Don’t give up.
  4. Use positive small talk. It grounds us all in the normality of life that we all need to experience.
  5. Don’t ask if you can help.  Ask if you can do specific things. Otherwise, your friend may tell you “no” because he or she doesn’t want to “put you out” or may feel too overwhelmed to know how to respond.
  6. Listen and be compassionate.  Don’t ignore or pretend the situation doesn’t exist. Ask him or her how they are feeling and let them talk. Don’t offer unsolicited advice or make statements that may be received as you not taking the condition seriously. When appropriate, share resources that may be helpful for your friend.
  7. If your loved one is able, try to get him or her to take a walk with you. If it is too cold outside, consider the mall or grocery shopping. The physical activity will be helpful. Even a short walk can boost endorphins and serotonin levels, which affect mood. Click here for a previous article we posted for additional tips that can help your loved one.

We are here to help your loved one and you. If either of you would like to talk with a compassionate and empathic professional counselor, please call ACM at 412-366-1300. Do not let lack of finances keep you from the help you need. We accept most insurance and offer an affordable sliding skill option.