How does God see those who are struggling with mental health difficulties and even mental illness? What if His perception of us was influenced by the headlines? What if He said we simply need to pray more and sin less? Statistics show that people suffering with a mental health difficulty will go to a pastor first and many of those pastors are respond by saying it is a spiritual issue; they simply need to pray more and sin less.
When Jesus responds to people who are suffering in Scripture, He relieves their suffering, reveals Himself and then restores their lives. He did this with the blind man by the pool in Bethesda. Jesus relieved his suffering and later approached the man again to reveal who He was and to restore the man’s life (John 5:1-17). Many times the Church is pretty good about revealing who Jesus is, and really good at teaching people how to live in Christ, but it has been difficult to know how to help people relieve their suffering.
When you encounter someone you know who is truly dealing with mental health difficulties, here are seven practical ways the Church can help:
- BE SUPPORTIVE BUT SET GOOD BOUNDARIES. It can take a lot of time and energy to help someone with a mental health difficulty. Out of great intention you may find yourself giving too much. So, unless you are taking care of yourself, it will be hard to take care of anyone else. Pace yourself and be sure you are implementing good self-care.
- GIVE THEM VALUE. Always speak to them with dignity. People are people, not projects. When the situation is frustrating, it is easy to unintentionally talk “down” to people. Pay close attention to your tone so it doesn’t emphasize the low self-worth they may already feel.
- ENCOURAGE THEM OFTEN. Focus on what they are doing right instead of what they are doing wrong. Let the professionals do the redirecting. Remind them of their safety with you and with God; these are judgment free zones.
- BE A VOICE AND ADVOCATE IN PRAYER. Their symptoms may be getting in the way of their ability to pray or even connect with God, so what a relief it would be to tell them not to worry about that. There is no guilt or shame, because you will pray for them until they get back on their feet.
- BE THE SUPPORT, NOT THE MECHANIC. Learn to listen to their struggles, not to fix or compare them. You will be amazed at how this will disarm and de-escalate communication.
Listening to hear: “That sounds really difficult, I’m so sorry you’re struggling with that.”
Fixing: “Oh, well have you tried…”
Comparison: “I have a cousin who had that too and all he had to do was…” or “I have a cousin who had that and they never recovered.”
- ENCOURAGE PROFESSIONAL CARE AS GOD-GIVEN CARE. Encourage them to seek professional help. God has provided these professionals to be part of the healing process. They have incredible wisdom and skills to provide wonderful care. This is just like any other illness and a professional will be able to get them on the right track.
- GRACE FOR MISTAKES. You will make mistakes so give yourself grace. Ask the person if what you are doing is helpful for him/her, and if there is anything else you can do to help.
It’s time for the Church to have a better response…a response from God’s perspective. How would Jesus treat these people who are suffering? What would He say or do that would point back to His love and His grace? Remember that ultimately, they are just like you: children of the living God, accepted, loved, forgiven and worthy of taking care of themselves.