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Helping someone with depression

What do an Old Testament prophet and an NBA star have in common? In 2018, DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors opened up about his bouts with depression. He had been recognized as an All-Star and his team held the best record in the Eastern Conference. But despite his success, he still battled with depression.

The prophet Elijah had a similar bout of depression. He had just experienced a miracle on Mount Carmel. God had answered his prayer by sending fire from heaven in front of a wide-eyed crowd (1 Kings 18:20-40). But the next day, a message from an enemy triggered his depression and he was ready to give up. Read the next chapter to see how God helped Elijah.

  1. How did depression affect Elijah?

    After all that the Lord had done with Elijah, it may seem surprising that he suffered from depression. But it did. As we look at the chapter, look for the things that led to Elijah’s depression.

    a. It came after an emotional high (1 Kings 19:1).

    On Mount Carmel, God had answered Elijah’s prayer, consumed his offering, and defeated the prophets of Baal. The people realized that they had been wrong in worshipping idols instead of God. This was a great victory for God and Elijah.

    b. It was triggered by a threat (1 Kings 19:2).

    When Jezabel heard the news, she sent a threatening message to Elijah telling him what she planned to do. Her grandiose statements basically meant that she would be killing Elijah in the next 24 hours. Could she do it? She was the queen at the time, so she had the ability to do it. It was a real threat.

    c. It made him want to quit (1 Kings 19:3-4).

    The victory on Mount Carmel was soon forgotten and Elijah ran for his life. He ran to Beersheba and left his servant there. Then he went another day’s journey into the wilderness hoping to stay hidden from Jezabel’s assassins. Having arrived at a broom tree, Elijah finally broke. Let me die!

    d. It caused him to think he was alone (1 Kings 19:10,14).

    An angel miraculously provided food and water for Elijah to drink. After eating, he traveled for forty days and nights to Mount Horeb. Despite God’s provision and safety, Elijah was still overcome with depression. He was convinced that Israel had rejected God despite his zealous efforts. He mentioned this twice to God.

  2. How did God respond to Elijah?

    As the all-wise Creator of people, God knows what is best and always does what is best. He knows how to help each person who is suffering from depression. So as we look at how he handled Elijah, take the time to note how God did it.

    a. He met his physical needs (1 Kings 19:5-7).

    Before leaving for Horeb, God sent an angel to feed Elijah twice. An angel awakened him to show a baked cake and a jar of water. After sleeping for a while, Elijah was awakened to eat a second time. This food enabled him to travel all the way to Horeb.

    b. He asked him a question (1 Kings 19:9,13).

    God didn’t lambast Elijah for his depression. Instead, he asked him a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” When you think about it, Elijah was no longer in the place he was needed. His fear had driven him far away from the spiritual battlefield of Israel. God’s question was a reality check. Why was he here? By these questions, God was causing Elijah to think more clearly. But God didn’t just ask the question. He also listened to his answer.

    c. He gave him something to do (1 Kings 19:15-17).

    It is interesting that God did not respond to Elijah’s depressed speech. Instead, he gave Elijah something to do. He told him to travel from Horeb all the way to Damascus. There he was to anoint Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king of Israel, and Elisha as his replacement. Whether Elijah’s depressed thinking ended his usefulness to the Lord, I am not sure. But I do know that God still used him for a few more months and having something to do must have caused him to feel useful once again.

    d. He revealed his wrong thinking (1 Kings 19:18).

    Was Elijah the only one left who was still faithful to the Lord? In the previous chapter, Obadiah had told him that he was taking care of 100 prophets whom he had hidden in two caves. So, Elijah wasn’t the only one. But his circumstances led him to think so. God answered his wrong thinking by telling him that he still had 7000 faithful believers in Israel. But God didn’t expose his wring thinking until the right time.

    Did you notice how God patiently worked with Elijah during his depression? He met his physical needs, asked him a question, gave him something to do, and finally revealed his wrong thinking. It was a process that could be helpful in working with others who are suffering from depression today. God didn’t yell at Elijah but slowly worked with him seeking to bring him back to where he needed to be.

  3. How should we treat depression?

    Do you feel equipped to work with someone who is depressed? Most of us probably don’t feel so equipped. A depressed person often thinks irrationally and we don’t understand why. But after watching how God dealt with Elijah, we should have learned a few things.

    a. Consider the person’s physical condition.

    When someone is going through a depressed state of mind, it may be partly due to the person’s physical condition. When someone is tired, exhausted, malnourished, or sick, they may not think as clearly as they would otherwise. This is something to take into account when dealing with a depressed person.

    b. Carefully ask questions and then listen.

    It is easy to “know” the solution to someone’s depression before you actually do know it. Your past experience or knowledge of counseling may give you confidence that shouldn’t be used at the beginning. Asking questions without a judgmental motive can allow the depressed person to voice their feelings and give you a better idea of what is going on. Listening is the key. If you speak before giving the person the opportunity to speak, you might end up being as helpful as Job’s friends.

    c. At the right time, expose wrong thinking.

    There is a time when wrong thinking should be exposed. But patience and self-control are key here. Instead of becoming angry with what the depressed person is saying or doing, take the time to listen and observe before pointing out the wrong thinking. This takes a great deal of patience but will be received if you are willing to wait for the right time.

God has not blessed every Christian with medical, psychological, or counseling expertise, but each of us has the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom given to us by Christ himself. As we interact with people who are depressed, let us follow God’s example and lovingly and patiently work with them with the hope that God will help them out of their depression. And let us continue to pray for God’s wisdom as we seek to know what is best to say and do in each situation.