[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.]
Dear friend, here are six things I want you to consider when interacting with me about my mental illness:
1. My mental illness is complex
The Psalmist David wrote that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). I too am a complex being, my brain especially. And when something this complex goes wrong, there isn’t an easy fix. It means a lot to me when you acknowledge that my mental illness is complex. I am grateful when you recognize how my mental illness is impacted by my physical, psychological, social, and spiritual well-being.
2. Please don’t try to diagnose me
I understand that you want to help me find relief, and because you care about me, you are eager to diagnose my mental health problems and search for and offer solutions. But be assured that I have been journeying for years with family, friends, counsellors, psychologists, and doctors to understand the complexities of my mental illness.
Through the journey of understanding my mental illness, I have learned how to better function, cope with, and accept my condition. I appreciate your insights and sharing with me, but please respect that my mental illness is far more complicated than one person’s perspective.
Please don’t infer that I should have my mental health or life figured out by now or that I should just get over it. I live in a complex and fallen world, where there aren’t always clearly defined diagnoses or answers.
I think about the book of Job and how it details his intense testing, suffering, and response. Job’s friends made many wrong assumptions about him, declaring him guilty and deserving of God’s punishment. But from God’s perspective, we see that Job’s suffering was but a test of Job’s good character, further proving his righteousness.
In the end, God held space for Job’s heartache but rebuked Job’s friends for their insensitivity and lack of empathy. A reason for suffering isn’t always given. It often remains a mystery to us.
Perhaps the best thing that Job’s friends did was sit with Job for that first week in silence. It was when they thought they knew the answers and opened their mouth to “educate” Job that they failed.
3. Ask how you can best pray for me
I appreciate earnest and intercessory prayers for deliverance from my mental illness. But even after years of many brothers and sisters sincerely praying for my healing, God has not chosen to do so. I am learning to accept that God may be asking me to live through my mental illness by his grace rather than to be saved out of it.
Recently, I have been asking friends to pray that I would become calmer, that I would accept my mental illness and be a good steward of the mental health and energy God has given me. Pray that my experience would make me care more for others who suffer, and that God would develop my character through my limitations and difficulties.
4. A sincere and simple check-in goes a long way
The most meaningful gift anyone can offer me is a curious, caring “how are you?” (and not in the typical North American-style casual greeting way). I highly value when family and friends check in with me periodically to see how I am doing. In my mental health journey, the most valuable gift anyone can offer is to listen and pray for me.
When a friend gives me permission to share how I am doing and empathizes with me, it means a lot. But a word of warning: please be cautious when you ask, “How are you doing?” Consider if you are actually willing to listen to what I honestly share. I will try to be brief, but to be honest. I have been hurt in times past when people have asked me how I was doing but then didn’t give me their time or attention to listen to my answer.
5. Please don’t avoid me
I know that my struggle with mental illness can be intimidating and awkward for you socially, but please don’t allow that to be an excuse for avoidance.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, people who disclose a diagnosis of depression report lower levels of social support. One of my greatest fears is of missing out and becoming more and more socially isolated.
Please understand that I am sometimes reluctant to share what is really going on. At times, I have felt that people have viewed me negatively for sharing about my ongoing mental illness. I get the impression that I am not good enough for them, social enough, or spiritual enough. I have often felt judged.
I have felt rejected for my mental illness and its impact on my life. I have felt like a failure and not as important as others who have had no hindrance to their physical or emotional well-being. I have felt dismissed and rejected by people who have placed a stigma on me. People pull away from me when my mental health starts to impact them.
The more I struggle with depression or anxiety and fatigue, the more I want to distance myself from others. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want you to reach out to me and let me know that you are praying or thinking about me.
Know what you can do to help. Be a listening ear. Ask questions, be curious. Pray for me. Instead of needing to fix me, allow me to just say what I am feeling.
6. Yes. Even maturing Christians can experience mental illness
Among Christian communities, there are many views and approaches to persons who struggle with mental illness. On one end of the spectrum, some believe that all mental illness is the direct result of spiritual warfare. Some believe that it is purely biological and is not influenced by the spiritual realm.
Whatever the case, one thing has become certain to me: the victory we receive through Christ does not guarantee that I will never suffer from mental illness. Sometimes we all need to hear stories of waiting upon God and waiting for answers in the darkness.
I would like to invite you to see me as a whole person. Like you, I am a complex human being composed of my physical, mental, and spiritual history, and so my mental illness can’t be attributed to a single factor.
I am a mix of genetic factors, experiences of trauma, sin, and spiritual oppression. I acknowledge that all these can contribute. I have often been told that I should experience the fullness of the victory of Christ and full healing here in this life, but Jesus never promised that.
In my case, Jesus has not chosen yet to heal me from my mental illness. Maybe he never will in this life. But I remember that even Paul was allowed the thorn in his side so that he would rely on the grace of Jesus even more.
Did you enjoy this article? We encourage you to check out more articles in our #mentalhealth series.
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