October 24, 2013

The right words offer hope in battle with depression

By Jack Smith

Bridgette never has a bad day. Her sweet and soothing voice is well known to customers at the Chick-fil-A drive thru in my hometown.  Bridgette always makes me feel better—even when I feel guilty for ordering yet another chocolate milkshake.

Her secret? Bridgette adjusts her emotional level based on her customers' first words into the drive thru microphone. If they sound grumpy, she dials down the sunshine. If they sound perky, she matches their emotions.

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It works. I've never once had a bad experience in the Chick-fil-A drive thru thanks to Bridgette's sweet voice.

I think we can all take a cue from Chick-fil-A when it comes to saying the right thing in the right way to those suffering from depression and other mental illness.

Words can help or they can hurt. They can heal or they can harm..

I've found almost all people have good intentions, but I've also had some tell me they didn't know what to say to me or someone else struggling with mental illness. Maybe this list will help.

5 good things to say to those with mental illness


"I don't know what to say."

Nothing wrong with being honest with your emotions. If you can't think of what to say, just say so. Add a hug and you've just made somebody in pain feel better.

"Just wanted you to know I'm thinking about you today."

Short and sweet and perfectly appropriate. Knowing someone is thinking about you lets you know they care. And that's comforting and reassuring.

If it's hard or too inconvenient to say in person, shoot a text or a Facebook message to someone who's struggling. I've gotten a bunch of text messages, and every single one has been a boost to me and a blow to the demons I'm dealing with.

"I love you."

The three most powerful words ever spoken are surely "He is risen." The next most powerful three words ever spoken are "I love you."

Besides prayer, the biggest gift so many have given me during a tough time is their love. Sometimes it's shown by an act of kindness, other times just through these simple but powerful words. Hearing "I love you" without question has made me feel better when I felt rotten and hated myself.

The Smiths aren't really touchy feely types, and I'm one of three boys. We don't hug a lot, but I can't describe how much comfort and confidence it gave me when my big brother flew to Houston and dropped me off at The Menninger Clinic. I was scared and my stomach was churning with anxiety. It all melted away when he hugged me and told me he loved me.

There is never an inappropriate time to tell someone you love them. Especially someone who has been hurting and may not have the capacity to love anyone, especially themselves. The great thing about telling someone you love them is it makes you feel better, too.

I've never been comfortable telling people I love them until recently. Thanks to the grace of God, not only am I comfortable telling friends I love them now. I'm comfortable giving big hugs to anyone—my kids, my wife and even big, burly men.

Love is the most potent medicine on the planet. So just go all Supertramp and Give a Little Bit. You will get a lot in return.

"It will get better."

Everybody might not agree with this one, but it's helpful to me. It's helpful because depression is a great liar. When you are trapped in the hell of major depression, it's easy to think you won't ever feel good again. It helps me to know that's a lie.

"You can do this."

When I'm shackled by the heavy chains of depression, it destroys my confidence. The cruel bitch of a disease knocks me to the ground and puts its feet squarely on my neck, choking the life and the hope out of me. I begin to believe I can't beat it, that I've been defeated.

Yet the words of others often give me the strength to get up off the mat and fight another day. The encouragement of my wife, my family and my friends restore my hope. They give me confidence when all else seems lost. They give me a chance to win this war.

We can help people who desperately need hope with a few encouraging words, or we can tear them down with words that hurt. Let's choose our words wisely. 

 P.S. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all my friends and family who've offered prayers and words of encouragement. They have made all the difference.