There are so many ways families dealing with mental illnesses can tie themselves up in knots. Misinformation, stigma, internal guilt, ignorance and denial all contribute to confusion, condemnation and hopelessness. Sometimes we feel like we are slogging in quicksand while hurriedly trying to find answers before we are swallowed alive. Other times we find ourselves paralyzed, unable to make decisions. And always we feel overwhelmed.
But even though supporting a loved one dealing with mental illness can feel like being caught up in whirlwind, there are a few tethers of truth we can hold on to as we weather the storms.
1. We are not alone. If one out of every five families deal with mental illness every year, there are a lot of us out there. The challenge is finding people who are open in sharing of their struggles and victories. Check out NAMI, Grace Alliance or local resources to find support groups. We can also stay confident that our Lord is walking with us. His rod and staff are our comfort, His Holy Spirit is our guide. His grace is and will be sufficient.
2. We are not to blame. Mental illness is a medical condition. It has ambushed our loved ones and our families as an unwelcomed intruder. And while you and I are not perfect people, and while we all have made choices and handled circumstances in ways that we wish we hadn’t, our actions are not the cause of our loved one’s medical issues. We can entrust our feelings of guilt, as well as our failures, to the One who forgives, redeems and restores.
3. We are not hopeless. While most mental illnesses don’t have cures, most do have interventions that can help bring a measure of stability and opportunities for improvement. As we plug into the mental health community we find new avenues of hope. We also know that with God all things are possible. We watch and pray for His goodness and mercy to be evident each day.
4. We are not helpless. There are so many ways to become educated about our loved ones’ conditions and how to find help. Again, NAMI and Grace Alliance offer a number of training classes for families. Books, blogs and podcasts are other resources available at little or no cost. Follow our Facebook page to discover links to timely information. We can also become advocates to help overcome the ignorance that produces stigma.
5. We are not superhuman. We have our limitations, and so it is vitally important that we take care of ourselves—physically, emotionally and mentally. Like the airline instructions to put on your breathing mask before helping another with theirs, so self-care has to come first. Again we turn to our Lord to help us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside still waters.
This list could be 10 times longer—and probably should be. With all the weights continually piled on our hearts, it is so important each day to remind ourselves—and each other: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 ESV)