You know her. She’s a friend or coworker. She goes to your church. Maybe she’s in your small group or serves as a ministry leader. Perhaps she’s your pastor’s wife—maybe she’s your daughter. But surely somewhere in your close proximity, there’s a mother suffering from depression. As she attempts to beat back the darkness, you wonder how you can care for her.
Many of us aren’t professional people-helpers. We’re not doctors, licensed therapists, social workers, or experienced counselors. We may not feel equipped to walk alongside mothers who feel trapped by despondency. It can be intimidating to enter into someone’s experience of affliction, especially when we struggle to understand it. How can laypeople begin to help with such a multifaceted problem?
Depressed Moms Need Discipleship
With an estimated 800,000 mothers in the U.S. diagnosed with a maternal mental health disorder each year—and with a large majority of them unable to get professional help—the body of Christ cannot stand idly by. Even as a layperson, you can offer a depressed mother necessary, irreplaceable care in Christ.
No, you can’t be a depressed mom’s deliverer. But by God’s grace, you can be her discipler. While depression care sometimes requires more than Christian discipleship, it never requires less. That’s because depressed moms are embodied souls—both spiritual and physical beings (Gen. 2:7). They may need professional help from doctors and counselors, but they also need what laypeople in Christ’s church can provide. No one can bear the darkness of depression alone, which is why God calls us to come close and bear each other up (Prov. 18:14; Eccl. 4:12; Gal. 6:2).
Practical Ways to Help
While depression care sometimes requires more than Christian discipleship, it never requires less.
Imitating Christ’s care for the downcast means drawing near to them with our presence (Ps. 34:18; 2 Cor. 7:6). It means patiently encouraging the fainthearted and helping them in practical ways (1 Thess. 5:14). As you seek to disciple a mother through depression, here are four practical ways to help her.
1. Support her through service.
To disciple a despondent mother is to hold a candle in her darkness. And an important component of Christian discipleship is serving one another in love (Gal. 5:13). Though it may not feel like you’re doing much to address her depression, the ministry of good deeds is a tangible manifestation of Christ’s light in her life (Matt. 5:16). Show you care by carving out time to support her through regular acts of practical service. This can look like helping around the house, bringing her a meal, or volunteering to watch her kids so she can take a break.
2. Lament with her.
When a depressed mother gives voice to her pain and confusion, it’s unwise to respond by singing songs of cheerful optimism (Prov. 25:20). As Zack Eswine has written, hope in this dark season will seem unrealistic to her if it fails to “match the depths of the wound and the misery of [her] pain.” This is where biblical lament becomes a gift of God’s grace and mercy—a means of engaging distressing thoughts and emotions as she waits on God to work according to his word (Ps. 119:25). As her discipler, you can help her to learn and speak the language of lament. Work through a resource together such as the Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy Devotional Journal. Go at a pace she’s comfortable with, even if progress seems slow.
3. Connect her suffering to Christ’s miseries.
In your ongoing ministry, remember that, as Charles Spurgeon explained, the “sympathy of Jesus is the next most precious thing to his sacrifice.” By connecting your friend’s misery to that of her Lord, he appears less like a merciless deity and more like the faithful Good Shepherd he is (Isa. 53; John 10:14–15).
Reflect regularly together on the fact that her suffering Savior sympathizes with her (Heb. 4:15), that songs of lament once poured out from his heavy heart (Matt. 27:46; Heb. 5:7–8), and that the Author of life knows what it’s like to be “‘overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’” (Matt. 26:38, NIV). Comfort her with the truth that Jesus experientially knows the depths of her misery—and that she’ll never be made to know the depths of his (Isa. 53:10–11).
4. Help her rehearse realistic hope.
Maybe the mom you’re caring for feels like she’ll be forever stuck in the dark. But while it’s true that midnight is here, it’s equally true that morning must come. No children of the light will be lost to darkness (John 6:39; Eph. 5:8). As her discipler, this is a realistic, hope-based encouragement to rehearse. Just as Christ’s is a death-before-resurrection story, hers is a suffering-before-glory story, a hurt-before-healing story, a darkness-before-light story. And the One who faithfully went through tribulation before her will remain faithful to go through it with her (Isa. 42:16).
Even as a layperson, you can offer a depressed mother necessary, irreplaceable care in Christ.
Discipling a depressed mom is a good work God will enable you—by his Spirit and Word—to walk in. With his help, you can become a conduit of sustaining grace, strengthening presence, and steadfast love. As you take care to step into a mom’s darkened world, God will give you the unquenchable light of Jesus Christ to carry (John 1:5). Your care and support may not take away her sorrowful burden, but by God’s grace, it can halve the heavy load.