Mental health is a loaded topic. Especially for Christians. As both the giver and receiver of mental health care at different times, I’ve heard the full gamut of unhelpful over-spiritualised Christian responses. But I’ve also seen and experienced some wonderful Christians stand beside those with mental illness and offer comfort and hope. In these articles, we’ll explore some steps to developing a Christian approach to mental illness so we can lead the way in caring for those with mental illness and experiencing the freedom of the gospel.
In this final article on a Christian approach to mental illness, we look at some practical tips for caring with those with mental illness.
I’ve been on all sides of mental illness – a therapist, a sufferer, a friend and a family member. It’s amazing to me how my perspective changes. From the outside, it can be frustrating to walk beside someone with mental illness, trying to work out what’s going on in their head and how they could have arrived at that conclusion. It’s draining to watch it keep going, day after day without relief. And it’s agonising to see our loved ones in pain. It’s tempting to jump in with simple cures and the ‘right’ answers, especially when there are Bible verses that seem so relevant:
Rejoice in the Lord always! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6)
But what if you can’t even get out of bed in the morning? How can you rejoice? What if you feel so distant from God that you can’t summon up the will to pray? What if you feel so guilty at your own weakness that it locks you in misery?
True as this verse is, in the midst of mental illness, it can feel like a platitude. At the best, this verse and others like it will be ignored by the person. At worst, they invalidate the person and make them feel even more isolated.
Mental illnesses do not usually appear overnight and they are rarely simple. They are a complex combination of historical and present experiences, thinking styles, physical sensations, biology and interpersonal interactions. There is help available and with the assistance of mental health professionals and supportive communities, many mental illnesses can be managed almost to the point of non-existence. But what won’t help them is well-meaning people who jump in too quickly to solve the problem with the ‘right’ answer. Instead, we need to be people who will walk beside those with mental illness, who will be the loving, accepting, soothing presence of God to them.
As you do so, here are some ideas on alternate phrases to use:
I’m here for you.
Let me be Jesus to you. How can I help?
It’s okay if you can’t pray. I’ll pray instead of you.
God holds us when we feel weak.
And if you’re really keen on using a Bible verse, try: Though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff protect me. (Psalm 23:4)
The gospel is grace not guilt. Jesus preached freedom not burden. Let’s extend that to our sisters with mental illness.
For some grace-filled music that gently points to the truths of Scripture, check out Rain for Roots
This post is designed to help Christians walk alongside their family and friends who experience mental health issues. It is no replacement for professional mental health care. If you or someone you know needs help, here are some resources.
Lifeline – 13 11 14
"Ruth Adams" (not her real name) lives in Central Asia, serving the Great Healer as a psycologist and sharing about Him.