[Editor’s Note: Everyone has mental health experiences on the spectrum between thriving and struggling. Perhaps you (or a friend) are in a season where you need extra mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical support. In this #mentalhealth series, we want to balance personal experience/story with input from mental health and medical professionals. We want to also explore, “How does our faith in Jesus relate to our mental health?” Our desire is to support you as you work towards mental well-being.
If you are considering hurting yourself or someone else, or you know someone who is, please contact a mental health emergency hotline. If you need urgent counselling support, Kids Help Phone is also available for young adults up to age 29 for phone calls, Facebook Messenger, or texting conversations.]
I’m slowly learning how to care for loved ones as they experience mental health challenges.
When my sister was diagnosed with postpartum depression, I decided to quit my part-time job so I could help with her second baby’s arrival. Looking back, I realize that, though I did help her, I was unaware of the severity of her mental health state.
A few years later, my roommate was one of the first of my close friends to struggle with depression. At this point I was more aware, and recognized her lack of well-being but didn’t necessarily know what to do. I noticed she had very little energy, she slept a lot more, and I continually heard her complain about not feeling like herself. I felt concerned, but I wasn’t sure how to broach the conversation. Should I ask if she is depressed? Or should I wait until she brings it up? I eventually found the courage to ask her, “How can I help you?” She shared that taking initiative felt especially difficult, so I took that to heart and tried to initiate conversations and times to hang out.
Several years later, another friend of mine gave birth to her first child. I noticed a few red flags that suggested she might be struggling: she was living in a new city, was having a hard time feeding the baby, wasn’t sleeping well, and she felt isolated––so many challenges at once. Even though she was on my mind a lot, I didn’t know what to do, so I turned to my sister for advice since she had gone through similar challenges.
She encouraged me to ask my friend some direct questions about her mental health. But that seemed challenging and I didn’t want to offend her. Yet the more I thought and prayed, I felt that God was nudging me to ask her some hard questions. I knew that someone had to ask about her well-being, and I proceeded to call her, even while dreading the conversation. I started with small talk before asking if I could ask her some personal questions regarding her mental health. She agreed, and I asked, “Do you have thoughts of harming your baby?” She said no. “Do you have thoughts of harming yourself?” There was a pause, and she told me she was struggling to see the value in herself, wanting to end her life. I told her that I was so sorry she was struggling, and I can’t remember what else I said. There was silence. I knew then: this was serious, and her family needed immediate help.
I was thankful that she was willing to be honest with me. Because of the severity of her situation, I went ahead and let her husband know right away what was going on. I knew I had to involve others in her life and also point her to professional help. Even though I was a friend, I have natural limitations. Connecting her to a doctor/therapist was essential for her well-being. I also asked what I could do to help their family. Her husband welcomed help, so friends from church brought them meals and made sure that someone was always around her so she was not alone.
Helping friends through mental health crises can be challenging. I have found it is better to be specific when offering help:
- Can I bring you a meal?
- Can I ask my friends from church to make sure you have food for the week?
- Can I help watch your baby or walk your dog so you can have a nap?
- Would you like some resources that I found helpful?
- Do you need my help to make some phone calls to healthcare providers?
If someone is willing to receive help, and I am able to offer it, I will gladly send help their way.
Being there for a friend in a mental health crisis was one thing, but when my husband started to struggle with depression I found it challenging in different ways. I knew he was struggling for a while before the diagnosis. He was getting agitated easily and was more impatient with the kids. He didn’t enjoy the things he used to. He’s not someone who gives up easily, so for him to say, “I feel like quitting” and “I have no energy to move on” made me realize that this was serious. I was also tormented as I watched his depression unfold. I wished I could take away his burdens. I wished I could do everything to make it better, but I couldn’t. It was devastating to watch his struggle to admit to his weakness, tiredness, and sense of defeat.
I went to my therapist and explained the situation. We talked about my husband and I needing to take turns in marriage to help each other in different seasons. She told me, “You are more resilient than you think you are.” That’s what I held onto. I took her advice to give him extra support, and we were able to set aside times in his week where he could exercise, because that would be helpful for him, even if it meant I had to take a five-month break from a hobby I love. When I felt strained, I reached out to friends and asked for help. They were willing to watch my kids and be there to listen. My priority was to help my husband grow to a healthier place. I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
At first, my husband was willing to go to a therapist for my sake, but I told him, “You can’t go there for me, you need to want it for yourself.” I didn’t want him to resent me. Thankfully over a few appointments, he started to see that therapy might be a new start for him.
After a few months, his medication started helping. He had a bit more energy. He started to feel again instead of being numb. We were able to increase our responsibilities a little bit at a time. We told each other when something was not working. We committed to always make it up in the end.
Now it’s been a year since his diagnosis. I know that adversities can sometimes pull couples apart. There can be resentment and bitterness. I knew that’s not where I wanted to be. This journey of support and healing has been a blessing, even though it was hard to navigate. At times, I had to choose to believe there was good to come from all of this, even though it was hard to see.
I still remember when he reached out to his mentor to tell him of the diagnosis. He and his wife immediately offered to come for a visit and see how we were doing. We were met with care, concern, and understanding. They prayed over us. I cried at the end of our time because I felt loved and cared for. Being able to lean on each other and lean on others has transformed our relationship.
Learning to grapple with mental health has been a learning curve for me. There have been several difficult moments when friends didn’t want my help, or weren’t ready to hear me out, and that’s okay. I’m learning to ask for permission before I ask personal questions, instead of pushing my way through and hoping for the best. Yet I also see God come through when it’s time for me to step back from helping others. I’m learning to trust God to do the work of healing. I’m thankful for where I am right now. There is still more to learn as I continue to lean into supporting others with their mental health journeys. I’m glad it’s God who journeys with me as I try to journey with others.
Did you enjoy this article? We encourage you to check out more articles in our #mentalhealth series.