When a Loved One is Struggling
We are blessed to live in a time and society where conversations about mental health are not only accepted but supported. The open conversations in our culture surrounding mental health have created an environment in society where people feel free to talk about their struggles. For many, this struggle extends to friends and loved ones walking through these very personal battles.
If you find yourself close to someone in their own mental health struggle or if you have a loved one who is having a hard time caring for you, this is for you.
My advice to those helping a loved one with mental health has four distinct parts:
• Be present
• Be patient
• Be a safe space
• Be healthy
Anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders can leave those who are struggling feeling alone and isolated. As a person in relationship with those who are struggling, this can make it difficult to be close to them, added to the fact that those struggling often experience shame that makes them want to push support away.
Believers are called to embrace the burdens of others as our own. Paul in Romans 12:15-16 challenges us to get close with people who are struggling, to mourn with those who mourn, and to be willing to join with people who are low. In application, this looks like being there when it’s difficult to even be physically in the same room. Time and endurance are key to being present, and these are the things we should pray for as supporters to those who are struggling.
Patience with mental health goes against the fix-it mentality of western culture. The temptation is to ask those who are struggling to simply “stop worrying” or “be happy” but the journey of overcoming a mental health disorder is not completed in a day. Even when someone who is struggling sees victory in a moment (sometimes leading us to believe that they are ‘cured’), the truth is that it may take years for real change to take root. This makes patience the primary challenge for the people with loved ones in this situation.
If being present is about being willing to get close to isolated people, being patient is about knowing changes don’t happen overnight. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Patience and endurance may feel difficult when the journey can last for decades but the results can be astonishing as the Lord strengthens you through the process.
Remaining both present and patient are values that will surely help those who are struggling but it must be coupled with safety to be truly effective.
Be a Safe Space
The practice of creating a safe space isn’t just caring for and loving those around you. It is centered around acceptance and empathy. The easiest way to be a safe person for your loved ones is to accept them in the way that Christ accepts us. Jesus models this perfectly by extending grace to us when we’re at our worst, when we’re undeserving of love, and when we’re difficult to be around, because He sees our value despite our struggle. Sometimes our loved ones are not okay. Even though it can be painful to witness, simply being a place where they can be themselves can be one of the most healing things for a person in pain. When we allow our loved ones to openly experience their struggle without condemnation, we create space for acceptance that invites them out of isolation and into safety.
Acceptance coupled with empathy means allowing your feelings to take a back seat while your loved one’s feelings drive. It can feel dangerous and frightening to enter this vulnerable space with our loved ones, which is why the final aspect of supporting a loved one is to respect your own physical and mental health.
Living with loved ones who are on a journey with mental health makes it extra necessary to care for our own well-being. This looks like getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and seeking mental health professionals as needed for your own support, even if your loved one is personally resistant to therapy. Those healthy practices allow you to be aware of your own emotions and measure your own responses. When traveling on airplanes, there is a reason we’re instructed to put on our own mask before putting the mask on those who can’t do it for themselves. Caring for yourself allows you to better care for those in need.
And remember that it is okay if you can’t be that person for your loved one right now. If they are willing, helping them find a mental health professional to work on their issues can often be the best way you can help. If you or someone you know needs access these services, please don’t wait to get them help.
When a loved one is struggling it often becomes our struggle as well. The faithfulness of God to walk with us through the highs and lows on the journey of mental health knows no boundaries or limitations. He is faithful to strengthen you wherever you are at in this process and will guide you through the road in caring for those on this journey.
May grace and peace be with you and those you love.
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