I just received an email from a reader of this blog who has a son who has developed a mental illness over the past two years. She requested that I give some insight into how to best encourage someone who is struggling and possibly how to motivate them to seek the medical help that would most be able to assist them.
I think back over my years of depression, back in my twenties... I cannot begin to describe to you what an awful feeling that is. Psychosis is bad, but for me, I would choose it over depression. And the worst thing is that the two often occur simultaneously. I spent several years lying in bed staring at the clock watching the minutes crawl by and the years speed by. Looking back, I would give ANYTHING (almost) to have that healthy young body again with an ounce of motivation in it...Those years are gone, wasted.
But you can't tell a person who is struggling with the effort of breathing, that he or she is wasting his or her life. It won't help and it will only add to their sense of frustration, despair and futility. So the question is: what CAN you do to help them? Firstly, never give up on them...call or visit every day or as often as possible. But when you visit, do not expect them to be able to entertain you. Be like Job's friends (they were not all bad) and just sit with him or her in silence and share their pain. This is a difficult thing to endure...but it will mean a lot to your loved one. Help them with their daily activities of living...do their laundry, cook them a meal and encourage them to eat it (but do not be angered or insulted if they don't). Gently suggest to them that a shower might make them feel better.
The most important thing to understand is that EVERYTHING seems to demand more energy than they feel they have. Everything seems pointless and futile...and they are aware of their "failure" in being productive...and this just makes it all harder to endure. Do not be surprised if their powers of reasoning are impaired and they make some serious errors in judgment. Try to encourage them not to make any major "Life Decisions" during such a time. Most of all, instill in them the knowledge -- or even the possibility -- that the way that they are feeling will NOT last forever! Tell them that there is a whole generation of new medicines out now which can offer some real relief, but that they need to get to a doctor who can prescribe and then regulate them. Tell them that the medicines may take a period of time before they can offer real relief, but to be patient and to try to hope that it will happen. If it is at all possible, make sure that you can show up and "encourage" the person to attend their medical appointments. Physically go with them and sit with them in the waiting room....Fill out the forms for them if they need help...
I know that I am asking you, the families of these hurting people, to do what seems impossible: To not lose patience; to love and to never give up hope; to not keep a record of wrongs or hurt feelings that come from unkind things the ill person may do or say; to ALWAYS HOPE; ALWAYS ENDURE....Read 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen every day if that will help you. Maybe read it aloud to your loved one and let them know that that is the way the Lord loves THEM.
Resist the opportunity to preach to them; let your actions speak the Gospel to them. Say things like, "I know you may feel like you are a burden or a failure right now, but that is your illness talking. It is not true and you must resist the temptation to believe that it is true." Keep reinforcing the fact that depression does not last forever and if they get on a medicine that works for them, it can improve soon.
Keep encouraging them to get out of the house...but do not take them to places of bright lights and frenzied activity, like a mall. Invite them to your house for a meal ...and go and pick them up and give them a ride there. Choose intimate, calm settings, but ones that will not put them on the spot or make them feel worse. (for example, do not take an unkempt, unshowered person to a fancy restaurant where he will negatively compare himself to all the other people there.) Sometimes impersonal settings are better...they create less of a demand... For example; taking a walk around a lake with them; sitting in a park and feeding ducks; going for a drive to see the autumn leaves. This type of thing is better than going out to dinner with a couple of friends. People ask questions; they feel awkward or embarrassed...and sometimes they say ignorant or rude things. Don't put your loved one in a situation where that is likely to happen to them.
Most important is that you let them know that you are not disappointed in them; that you are not embarrassed by them and that you will BE THERE for them, no matter what. Show them that you love them and are hurting with them; but that you are certain that things will look up...Keep your own eyes fixed on Jesus and let Him grow your trust in Him through this hardship. Entrust Him with the care and protection of your loved one who is struggling.
If I can be of any more help, please do as this person did and either email me or comment with your questions or with topics you would like to see covered. I will do my best. I will also be glad to pray for your family member who is ill. And it almost seems foolish to say it; but YOU keep bringing them to the Lord's attention daily as well. It is only by the power of the prayers of a multitude of people who were praying for me, that I survived and finally came out of the darkness. I still have times when the darkness descends (but now I know enough to know that it will not last forever)....Prayer is your greatest weapon.