If you spend any time at our house you might hear my husband say something like, “My brain is broken.” What else do you say when something isn’t working properly? It’s been almost 10 years since his diagnosis with Bipolar 2 disorder and we still find ourselves on the roller coaster of mental illness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s much less traumatic with medication and counseling, but it is still a roller coaster—just one with a seat belt.
I recently read a thought-provoking article in Christianity Today, Can Neuroscience Help Us Disciple Anyone? by John Ortberg. In it, Rick and Kay Warren said this, after the death of their son:
Any other organ in my body can get broken and there’s no shame, no stigma to it. My liver stops working, my heart stops working, my lungs stop working. Well, I’ll just say, ‘Hey, I’ve got diabetes, or a defective pancreas or whatever,’ but if my brain is broken, I’m supposed to feel shame. And so a lot of people who should get help don’t. -Rick and Kay Warren
What do we do if those we love are struggling with mental illness? How do we respond when realizing that we are fighting this battle for ourselves? My sister recently broke her leg. It was intuitive for her friends and family to rally around her and meet her practical needs. But if we hear that someone has been diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder we rarely bring meals and offer to watch their kids. The truth is broken bones heal but mental illness (unless God provides a miracle healing) is probably a lifetime disease. What can we do as a community?
As someone living with this in my family day to day this is my personal opinion of what would be helpful:
Compassion: Please, please don’t make the irrational assumption that if we prayed more it would go away. Would you say that to someone with acne or a sprained ankle? If compassion and tenderness doesn’t come naturally to you, pray for God to develop it within you. True mercy will motivate you to help in whatever way is appropriate to the situation.
Education: If someone you know has a mental illness, take the time to find out what their day to day struggles are. You can do this through conversations with your friend or reading up on their illness. Don’t assume that their surface disposition means that they aren’t struggling. Seek to know them on a deeper level.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie
Prayer: Neuroscience is proving what we as followers of Jesus already knew—hours spent in prayer can actually change our brains. Prayer not only changes us personally but God hears us when we pray (1 John 5:14) and we can trust that He will answer according to His will.
Prayer for our loved ones with mental illness: I pray today for each person struggling with mental illness. You created them and know them intimately. You know their needs. Free them from fear and negative thoughts about themselves. Help them to remember the truth of your Word. Guide them to good counsel for their bodies, minds and souls. You are the light in their darkness God. May you bring healing, wholeness and peace. In Jesus Name. Amen.