One of the biggest challenges for people who live with mental illness, or disabilities of any kind, is finding the support they need. Why? If we don’t have firsthand experience, it can be difficult to understand what it is like to persevere through the daily challenges. That’s just the way it is. How do we work through questions, concerns, and fears to effectively encourage loved ones with mental illness? The easy answer is, focus on the person and not the illness.
“Society’s perception is that the ‘mentally ill’ can’t work, don’t have healthy relationships, are to be feared, are not worthy of respect, and are relegated to the margins of society because they are ‘different.’ Yet they usually work tirelessly to regain a sense of self and a sense of peace.” Dr. Nancy Kehoe: Wrestling with Our Inner Angels: Faith, Mental Illness and the Journey to Wholeness © 2009
Here are some practical tips to encourage hurting people. These suggestions are based on what I needed and experienced when I had severe depression. I will always be grateful for family and friends who reminded me I was loved.
- Communicate without judgment. As much progress has been made to reduce the stigma of mental illness, there still exists the belief that someone with depression should just “get over it.” A person with an anxiety disorder may be told to “stop worrying all the time.” Expressing unconditional love without judgment is essential.
- Be available. Even if you don’t live nearby, you can show someone they are loved. A simple phone call or email might be just what he/she needs.Encourage them by simply being present.
- Spend time together. Don’t wait for your friend to call you. They probably won’t. Arrange a get-together, but do not stop by their home unannounced. A mom with postpartum depression may appreciate your offer to watch the kids while she takes a hot bath. Invite someone trying to hold on to employment to lunch. Enjoy each other’s company to build a relationship of trust.
- Offer occasional household help.Occasional help with everyday responsibilities can motivate an individual to persevere. It is encouraging to know you have friends who care.
- Encourage participation in life. Isolation is a problem for many people. To draw this person out of isolation – share a meal, go for walks, take the kids on field trips, have a mom’s chick-flick night or dad’s bowling event. Show your friend that life is filled with blessings.
- Be honest about how you feel. Give your friend plenty of opportunities to talk, share, cry, and express feelings. Then, when it’s your turn, tell the truth about how you feel. Are you worried? Scared? Mad? Frustrated? Don’t share your feelings to cause a guilt trip, but to remind a friend you need encouragement, too. This can help a friend recognize the needs of others.
There is a secret weapon you can use on behalf of your friends, even if they don’t realize you’re doing it. Pray. God is listening, even when we don’t see an answer right away. Some friends may appreciate a card letting them know they are in your thoughts and prayers.
“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” James 5:19, The Message Bible
Other ideas for encouragement are found on these websites.