Today’s blog is another topic that was suggested on social media and has honestly been one of the hardest to write. There are so many aspects of mental health that it was hard to decide on an angle. Today, more than usual, I write this one for me and not just the readers.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
As Christians, we can be picky about which burdens we are willing to help someone bear. Unfortunately, mental health is usually one that people are quick to shy away from, or they handle incorrectly. However, it’s important to remember that everyone is on the continuum of mental health, it just so happens that some are on the tail end of ‘bad,’ thus resulting in mental ill health. In an ideal world, everyone would have good mental health. The present emphasis on ‘self-care’ on social media and various other platforms is an effort to encourage individuals to adopt strategies that promote good mental health. If you don’t struggle with mental health issues on a consistent basis, it can be hard to relate to those that do. However, taking the time to understand their issues, and asking (not assuming) how you can help, are indicators of someone who genuinely desires to bear the burden.
Supporting those with mental health issues requires empathy.
If someone discloses to you that they’re struggling with mental illness, the disclosure in itself has probably been difficult given that the subject is still taboo and regarded by some as a sign of weakness. The last thing they’re in need of are responses that lack empathy e.g. “thing X isn’t scary, there’s no need to be anxious” (anxiety), or “cheer up, don’t be sad” (depression). In addition, a Christian favourite is to only tell them to pray about it and ‘cast their burden on Jesus’ (Psalm 55:22 cf Matthew 11:28). Responses like these, no matter how well intended, are insensitive. They’re a quick fix which demonstrate no real desire to bear the individual’s burden. Of course, you can’t physically share in their mental illness, but you can choose to be more empathetic with regard to how they are feeling. These articles contain practical ways for you to assist in bearing someone’s burden:
- Tips For Supporting Someone
- How to Help a Loved One with a Mental Illness
- 5 Things Never to Say to Someone With Mental Illness, and What You Can Say Instead
Mental health burdens vary in severity. For example, the criteria for diagnosing clinical depression requires an individual to experience five or more symptoms (from a list of eight) during the same 2-week period. However, there are some people who experience some aspects of depression, but it doesn’t necessarily amount to clinical depression. In my case, last week I struggled with worthlessness (criterion 7). Thankfully, it was short lived and I did my best to internalise the affirmations that I requested from friends that I’d mentioned the issue to. However, if I hadn’t sought help it’s possible that the burden could have become ‘heavier’ i.e. experiencing other criteria. The responses that I valued the most were those where I felt understood. The individual may or may not have have been able to identify with my experience, but they acknowledged my feelings as valid nonetheless.
Your actions can increase or decrease the burden of their mental illness.
Given that 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year, you probably know someone that is struggling. Would they feel comfortable sharing their struggle with you? The lie I most frequently tell is that I’m fine. Of course, I usually am, but depending on who asked it’s sometimes easier to keep it brief. Imagine if you only asked ‘how are you?’ in expectation of a real answer, or dared to probe whether the individual was really ‘fine’ when you suspected dishonesty. People will always try to placate you with the response they think you want to hear; however, you should strive for relationships that are so transparent that there isn’t anything you wouldn’t want to hear/share.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
The law of Christ to love others like Him. In other words, you can’t fulfil His law without bearing the burdens of others. It’s possible (but unlikely) that you’ll never encounter someone with a mental health burden. For those who do, much like anything else, it’s important to filter your actions in terms of what Christ would do. By alienating someone that has a mental illness you’re not loving them the way they deserve. Likewise, in dismissing or diminishing their feelings, you’re also falling short of the required standard of love. Mental illness is invisible; you’ll never truly be able to appreciate what goes on in their mind. But helping someone with a mental illness (or bad mental health) isn’t as difficult as you think. It requires you to withhold judgement and see things from their perspective. Ask them how you can help them (or seek help for them if they’re in denial) – how you choose to respond is a demonstration of love or hate.
To the person that is afraid to share their struggle, please remember that your burden is just a burden. It’s no worse than any other. Hopefully there are those around who can support you, but if not, drop me a message on the Contact page.