What to Say to Comfort Your Depressed Friend

“The moment when the counselor must respond to the pain that has been revealed by a broken person is one of the most sacred occasions in all of life.” Heath Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling

You may not consider yourself a counselor, but when someone you loved is walking through depression, you're on the front lines. You have been placed in a particular position by God to be a comforter (1 Thes. 5:11, 2 Cor. 1:4), a companion (Gal. 6:2), and most of all, a source of strength for the spiritually weak (Gal. 6:1).

No, you may not be a certified biblical counselor, but if you are a Christian ministering to another Christian, you are offering counsel–the only question being whether or not it is wise and appropriate for the time and occaision. In his timeless book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

"Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure." 
The moment when the counselor must respond to the pain that has been revealed by a broken person is one of the most sacred occasions in all of life.
– Heath Lambert
In those sacred moments, when the one we love has shared their burden and revealed that they are suffering from depression, a response of some kind is required. And at that moment, there is an opportunity to be that comforter, companion, and strength–but the words must be carefully chosen. When someone is stuck in the great Slough of Despond, there is much that is immediately hurtful, and little that is immediately helpful. However, with a compassionate heart, and an approach that doesn't seek to "fix" the other by "singing a song" (Proverbs 25:20), a tender moment of merciful care is available.

You can also remove the weight from your shoulders in believing you must have a transformative word ready that would part the clouds hanging over your friend like the Red Sea waters. Depression is very much something that must be traveled through, a dark tunnel by which we must stroll. Your well-chosen words should convey simple supports mixed with eternal truths–sustaining morsels for the journey ahead.

I'd like to offer some simple phrases that may be helpful to you, should you find yourself in a position of response to a depressed person's disclosure.

"I'm committed to walking through this with you."

"God won't leave you this way."

"I'm sorry you're hurting so badly. I'm going to pray for you now."

"I love you, and I'm here for you."

"This must be so hard for you. What does it feel like?"

"God sees, knows, and cares about this pain you're walking through. Mercy is on its way."

"You are needed, important, and cared about."

"You are not alone. I am here for you, and so is Christ."

"You are not experiencing something abnormal for Christians."

"You have a special and unique purpose, and I know God will redeem this season of sorrow. Until then, I will wait with you."

"What are some of the thoughts you're most burdened by right now?"

"I know this is overwhelming. I am here to help you take the next right step."

"I want to shoulder this burden with you. Is there anything specific you'd like to share with me?"

"Thank you for trusting me with this information. Your bravery has ministered to me."

"I applaud you for having the courage remain faithful to small tasks while feeling this way."

When someone is stuck in the great Slough of Despond, there is much that is immediately hurtful, and little that is immediately helpful.
While this is not an exhaustive list, I pray it is a help to those who want to be better equipped with compassionate responses to friends who are suffering from depression.

Remember that with any mental/emotional/spiritual struggle, there is a time for comfort and a time for challenge. Those in the deep recesses of depression will not respond well to challenge–usually quite the opposite. Statements such as, "Fight back in faith," "Pray for healing," "Look on the bright side," "Things could be worse," may have truths in them, but as an initial reply to offering counsel to the broken, these statements do not validate their experience.

Trite, ill-timed replies such as this serve only to discount the experience of the burdened person, making them feel as through they can lift themselves out of the pit by some sort of equation. I'd submit to you that true depression is far more complex that our simplistic equations can solve. What your friend needs most from you is your compassionate faithlessness–a commitment to walk the length of the road out of the valley...hand-in-hand, side-by-side.  
Christine M. Chappell
Christine Chappell is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart, and the Founder/Host of That Upcycled Life on YouTube. She writes frequently about mental health topics at her blog and is training with IBCD to become a certified biblical counselor. Christine is also a guest contributor at Desiring God and Thrive Moms.
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