I've been watching some discussions about mental illness take place on Facebook recently. I've been encouraged by the courage of many in talking about their own struggles with mental illness. And I've been shocked at some of the responses they've received - many of them the very reason why this isn't talked about in the church often enough.
As someone who has been there myself and has walked alongside others in their struggle, I know it's difficult to talk about openly. For all the ground we've gained, there is still a lot of stigma around mental illness. And, sadly, that stigma often seems greater in the church.
To some degree I understand. If you've never dealt with mental illness yourself, it can be hard to understand. I didn't really understand it until I faced it myself. Then I was able to more easily alongside others who were struggling, with the love and grace they needed.
I think the part of the online discussions I've been struggling with the most is the implication that a person with mental illness would be cured if they just had more faith and prayed more. Can those things help someone struggling with mental illness? Absolutely. But to imply (and sometimes, out-right state) that's all they need is destructive.
Some of the people I know who had the greatest faith and the most intimate prayer lives are also those who are in the midst of the some of the deepest battles with mental illness. Telling someone they need to have more faith and pray more to be cured does nothing more than make light of a legitimate struggle.
In the case of any other kind of illness we would definitely pray for God to heal the person, but we would also encourage the person to see appropriate medical help. Why do we treat mental illness any differently?
I guess the thing I'm looking for in all of these discussions I've seen, that often seems to be missing, is the love and care for one another that Scripture teaches. Yes, there are times when we need to speak some hard truth to each other, but that should never come at the expense of loving and caring for one another. It should be part of it.
I would say that even when we're participating in discussions on social media of any kind, maybe even especially there, we need to be careful not to use our words in the destructive way I've been seeing them used lately. When someone admits to a struggle with mental illness, we need to respond with care and love. Being supportive of their struggle and their journey back to health.
What if, instead of telling people what they should do when they admit a struggle with mental illness, we listened? And we cared? And we offered love and support?