Can a Kind Act Diminish Depression?
Can a Kind Act Diminish Depression?
10 Simple Ways to Refresh Others…and Yourself
It didn’t take me long to learn that depression is a liar – continual self-condemnation is its hallmark. The tapes telling you that you’re worthless, stupid, burdensome, and unlovable play on a continuous loop in your mind. At least that’s the way it was for me.
I began seeking treatment for depression in 1995 and it was as though the dam burst and years of medication trials, psych hospitalizations and instability ensued. I felt broken beyond repair, and being in the lockdown unit of the psych hospital only served to confirm how I felt about myself: defective, weird, crazy, abnormal, unworthy of any good thing.
Looking back, I recognize that I allowed my depression and anxiety to define my worth and value. There has long been a difficult stigma surrounding depression and anxiety and it seems that no one judged me harsher than I judged myself.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
- Luke 6:38 (NIV)
There’s a sense of permanence when depression swallows you up. I couldn’t imagine that my life would ever be “normal” again. I remember the first day I received the tiniest ray of hope. One of the psych nurses was checking in on me and we had a brief conversation in which she shared that she too had depression. I was so surprised – she looked so “normal.” At that moment, I had a hope that maybe, just maybe, one day I could do something productive with my life again.
A couple of years into my journey, I went back to school to seek my degree in Psychology. I wanted to know and understand everything I could about what I was experiencing. In my Field Psychology class, we were required to volunteer in the community for the duration of the term. Students discussed various places they were interested in and someone mentioned a local psych hospital was looking for volunteers. I knew firsthand the many challenges of being in a psych ward and decided that’s where I wanted to volunteer.
Much to my chagrin, after completing the application I had to be interviewed by a psychiatrist. Since receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I felt like there was a flashing neon light on my forehead saying “mentally ill”! What if the doctor found out I had bipolar disorder? Surely, I wouldn’t be allowed to volunteer! Alas, that didn’t happen and I started volunteering on the lockdown unit of the psych hospital.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
- 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)
Knowing the many challenges of being a patient in a psych unit, I wanted to be a friendly face in the midst. Unlike conventional hospitals, sheets are not usually changed by the staff in a psych hospital so that’s how I started my conversations with patients. They were usually surprised that I would offer to change their sheets – but the conversations that ensued gave me the chance to tell them I too had been a patient who suffered from depression. I wanted to let those who were bereft of hope know that there most assuredly was great hope for them! I now see the connection between first finding hope in the psych hospital and my passion for volunteering there…yay, God!
During my own journey to stability there were many times I sat in the car before my shift crying out to God to help me because I had nothing, often not even the energy to walk through the front door. I usually stayed for an 8-hour shift and after several months the staff began treating me like one of them, letting me sit in on some of the therapy groups and start an art group on the lockdown unit.
A very interesting thing happened – once I was through the door, my mind shifted from me to the patients I was serving. I ALWAYS felt better when I left.
Thus began my path of helping others who were on the same journey as me. At my church, I started a support group for Christians struggling with depression and anxiety and I started speaking and teaching for NAMI. I was truly surprised that people would come up to me after I’d spoken at an event and thank me for my courage to share. They didn’t judge me, they said I brought a greater understanding of their loved one’s journey or their own. I even sat on a panel for over eight years talking to law enforcement officials about mental health challenges during the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team Training.
“A man reaps what he sows.”
– Galatians 6:7 (NIV Truncated)
I am grateful beyond words that God gave me the courage to put aside the shame, embarrassment and failure I felt because of my illness and fill me with his Holy Spirit to do the good works He created me to do!
As I’ve learned over the years, the surest and fastest reprieve you can have from an overwhelming episode of depression is to do something for someone else – just because. Lay aside any expectations for recognition and appreciation and just do something kind because you can!
Here are 10 simple ideas for bringing refreshment to others:
Take your neighbor’s newspaper up to the front doorstep so it’s there when they go out to get it.
Hold a door open for someone and smile at them.
Always say hello to people you pass, especially if their head is down - you’ll be surprised that almost everyone will look up and smile at you!
Do somebody else’s chore at home.
Write a love note on the bathroom mirror.
Tidy up your area.
Walk to the door and greet your family member when they come home.
Bake cookies and take them to a friend.
Handwrite a note to let someone know you’re thinking of them.
Google search “Random Acts of Kindness” to find more ideas! Look for the things you CAN do and focus on those.
While these are not big things, they are the tiny steps that can lead you to the life of mental health and stability that you are seeking.
“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- Matthew 20:28 (NIV)
Helping others is biblical and has lots of spiritual and physical benefits! You don’t need any special training, money or tons of time – it’s something you can do starting right now!
*Are you using our Thrive Workbook? Have you used this tool in the Refreshing Others chapter? Thrive is an in-depth, self-directed whole-health guide proven to reduce depression, anxiety, etc., improve daily life and renew your life in Christ. Let us know your experience and other thoughts or ideas about refreshing others by posting on Facebook or Instagram and tagging @thegracealliance or leaving a comment below!
Kathy Lutes is a passionate advocate for mental health issues in the faith community. Diagnosed with Bipolar II in 1995, she has experienced remarkable recovery and is dedicated to helping others on the journey she's been on. She was instrumental in starting Grace Groups in the state of California, and now she and her husband Tracy have introduced the Grace Groups to Nevada where they facilitate both the Living Grace Group and Family Grace Group at Lifepoint Church in Minden, NV.