Have you ever been the person who got asked to help in these types of situations? Or have you seen something similar happen from a distance?
- People running into the auditorium asking for assistance to help a man clearly having some sort of mental breakdown, curled up in a ball in the church lobby. People walking by and looking but not knowing what to do.
- Your friend frantically calls you to come over to watch/take his kids for the night after his wife was screaming on the front porch for people to leave, but no one was in the yard, it was all imagined. He is trying to convince her to go to the ER for relief.
- You get a late-night phone call from a freaked-out parent who discovers scars on their sleeping 13-year-old daughter’s arms. You were their youth leader at camp, and you wonder now what to do.
- Someone in your small group is telling stories that can’t be true. As you gently pry, it becomes clear that perception is far from reality and anxiety is in control, yet clumsily hidden from view. It’s awkward, but it has to be addressed.
It’s all pretty heavy stuff to deal with, but do you know the single best thing you can do to help someone with mental struggles or illness?
You might have thought that since I am a professional counselor I would have said to “immediately send them to a professional counselor.” It probably would help, but it isn’t the most helpful thing that most people can do to be useful in most cases.
Here it is: Be their friend!
Take the “one another” verses in scripture and live it together with them. Those with mental struggles are not a project to be fixed. They are not a problem to be managed. They are people that are made in the image of God. They have worth and dignity endowed by their creator. Consider the following directives from the scripture in light of how we treat those with mental struggles.
Here are five ways that any Christian can be a good friend with those enduring mental struggles.
- Seek to treat them as image-bearers – “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7) “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
- Spend time with them as a friend – “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9) “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
- Speak bold and clear truth to help anchor them – “Encourage one another daily…” (Hebrews 3:13) “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
- Serve them and with them as they serve others – “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10) “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
- Stop the stigma surrounding mental struggles in the church – “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13) “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
How would it impact the lives of those with mental struggles if they had people in their lives committed to living with them in this type of community?
If churches are going to be effective in shepherding those with mental struggles, it will require an investment in the relationship. You can’t effectively help those with mental struggles by treating each person the same.
Our goal must be to love all who suffer with the love of Christ and enter into their struggle with the hope that God gives. We must patiently and persistently help those with mental struggles understand and apply the wisdom of the Word to the practical issues of life, and ensure medical care for them when the Word doesn’t seem to be comprehensible.
People tend to turn back to those who spoke the truth to them when they need it most, even if they have seemingly rejected the source in the meantime. God is always faithful, and His faithfulness allows us to take this same stance of longsuffering for the good of those in need. Speaking the truth in love over time in community is the pathway for spiritual growth for anyone, not just those with mental struggles.
This is a call to all of us, to be a church committed to compassion and hope. With God’s help, I think this can be true of us all.