Why do you turn a deaf ear? Why do you make yourself scarce? For as long as I remember I’ve been hurting; I’ve taken the worst you can hand out, and I’ve had it. Your wildfire anger has blazed through my life; I’m bleeding, black-and-blue. You’ve attacked me fiercely from every side, raining down blows till I’m nearly dead. You made lover and neighbor alike dump me; the only friend I have left is Darkness.
— Psalm 88: 14b-18 (Bible Paraphrase: The Message)
Those who have no personal experience with mental illness may want to read all of Psalm 88 to get a glimpse of the kind of despair that people go through.
Feelings of sadness, anger, abandonment, isolation, mistrust, and hopelessness are just a few of the emotions that can create deep darkness from which there seems no escape.
As people of faith, we are called to share God’s love and compassion with those who are hurting. As we seek to be supportive and embody the love of a God who walks alongside those with mental health challenges, here are a few simple things we can do to remind people that God loves them and make the world a kinder place for those who are suffering.
First, we can be a friend by providing companionship and compassion on the road toward recovery. Perhaps it means offering a ride to church or accompanying them to a local support group, counselor, or medical appointment.
We can also offer to listen without judgment and pray for those we know with mental health challenges and substance use disorders. We can pray for their family and caregivers too.
If a mental illness has impacted us or our family in some way, we can also share our own story to empower others to seek treatment and encourage them to have hope.
We can be careful of our language and pay attention to the words we use to avoid labeling people. Using words such as “crazy”, “psycho,” “lunatic” or “mental” is hurtful, damaging and can cause more pain and despair to those already living with an immense burden.
We can be a “Stigma Buster” by challenging stereotypes, judgment, bullying, and negative attitudes toward mental illness. Among our friends, acquaintances, and in our places of worship, work, and play, we can share positive messages as a reminder that mental health is for everyone and that it means taking care of our whole selves; body, mind, and spirit.
And finally, we can educate ourselves and learn the facts about the various mental health challenges, substance use disorders, developmental differences, and other brain disorders. There are many good online programs and lots of great information available through organizations that work to promote awareness and work towards good mental health for us all.
May 2 was Mental Health Sunday and the month of May is Mental Health Month. God calls us to be instruments of healing and comfort to those we know are suffering from a mental illness through no fault of their own. As we increase our awareness, compassion, and sensitivity in order to be the loving people Jesus calls us to be, we will be better able to embrace and accompany our neighbors who wrestle with mental illness.