Validate the Struggle
Can we just all agree that mental illness is straight up weird? You can’t see it, there is no way to scientifically diagnose it (like you can a virus), and treatment can be really difficult. And some people, like myself, have developed a series of elaborate coping skills over the years which allow them to, for the most part, behave like somewhat normal people.
The ephemeral, hidden nature of brain sickness can lead some people to talk about it as if it’s not a real struggle or illness. Like it’s in people’s heads rather than in their brains. Like it’s something that only affects weak and failing Christians.
Because we don’t talk much about it in church, it can make those who suffer feel like no one takes their illness seriously. When someone gets sick, we make them casseroles, but when someone sinks into depression, no one really notices.
When a sufferer lets you into their world, affirm that what they are feeling and experiencing is very real. The depression and bipolar and anxiety all exist.
Pastors, it’s really helpful when you occasionally mention these things from the pulpit. Simply acknowledging the existence of mental illness to the church takes the subject out of the taboo darkness. No, you’re not embracing a therapeutic view of the world that minimizes sin and responsibility. You’re acknowledging the reality of living in a world where brain and body and soul are thoroughly broken.
Encouragement, Patience and Help
1 Thessalonians 5:14 says:
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
I find this to be a really helpful paradigm for serving those who struggle with mental illness. We are fainthearted and weak, and we need encouragement, patience and help.
Even though I’m not an easy person to encourage or be patient with, I’m so grateful for my many friends who stick with me.
By the grace of God, let’s all grow in our encouragement and patience toward one another.