I Know Nothing About Mental Illness; What Can I Do?
Several years ago during one of my wife’s crisis, I took a 3 month Leave of Absence from my work as a public school teacher plus the 3 months off in the summer to stay with my recovering wife. It was a time of isolation, a time of frustration caused by seeking help but not getting any response, a time of getting angry at the system for its failures in supporting me, a time of retro and introspection. At the height of my frustration my cousin told me to send an email to everyone in my email directory inviting them to come to my house to be part of a meeting to be a support system for my wife and I. Nine people responded. Only one, other than myself, had any experience with the mental health system, but in the end all contributed.
My aunt who stayed with a ninety-year old lady on a daily basis volunteered to sit with my wife for an hour or two a week so I could go shopping or have some time off for myself. A local minister and his wife were excellent listeners, listening and comforting Deb through her recovery. Another had medical contacts, advising me how to go through proper channels, etc. One week all nine contributed in some form.
My point is that sometimes the most effective support system you can have is non-professional, non-clinical. The church is not a building, or an institution, or a program. “Church” is the gathering of god’s people! It can be anywhere, not just in a building. In fact, outside its building is where it is most effective! If you have a church family who will support you in various ways, feel fortunate, and tap into that resource. The theme of these blogs is about the five fold, and the “pastoral” component is so effective to everyone, no matter if one faces mental illness or not. Someone who “cares”, some one who is part of your daily life; some one who “helps” in practical everyday experiences; someone to encourage you, pray with you, give you a hug when needed.
As I mentioned earlier, mental illness can drive one to isolation. The best way to prevent an isolated life is by getting plugged into a small group that exemplifies the pastoral spirit of the five fold. Everyone needs care, nurturing, fellowshipping, the feeling of “belonging”, a feeling of “worth”, an avenue to reach out to others, and a support system.
I have a friend who has a son with Down-Syndrome. I use to wonder how he and his wife survived the daily demands and strains put upon themselves by what appeared to me as a handicapped son. After spending time with them, fellowshipping with them, going to their house and they to mine, I began to understand, as I too soon fell in love with their son. He hugs, smiles, encourages, and lives life to the fullest the best way he can. I never see him depressed. He picks me up when I am down, hugs me when I need a physical touch, and always has a smile. He ministers to me. I now understand why they couldn’t live without him and how special he is.
The same is true with someone with mental illness in our midst, for even though they may have more demands than you normally think, they still have so much to give. I have learned to love to hang around our local NAMI, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, office because of how the people there lift me up even when I am struggling. Everyone has something to give; everyone can receive something from someone else. Everyone has the capacity to give, to love, to care. That is the pastoral spirit.
If you want to share the compassion of Jesus, then reach out to the caregiver who has a loved one who is ill. That caregiver is constantly giving, usually selflessly for the sake of their loved one. If someone doesn’t take care of the caregiver, the caregiver will eventually burn out and have no care to give. Often, much attention is given to the one who is ill, not the caregiver. Caregivers need to be surrounded by pastoral care.
“How can I help when I don’t understand it?” you may ask. Just exemplifying the pastoral spirit by being there is a help. On the Statue of Liberty is engraved, “No Man Is An Island; No Man Stands Alone.” There is so much truth to that statement. As immigrants enter the port of New York about to face a new life with severe challenges but great hope, what better opening statement of advice to give! The “body of Christ” is a group of people. The Priesthood of Believers is a group of people. The Church is a group of people. The pastoral spirit is the glue that keeps it together. It is a powerful spirit, a healing spirit, a supportive spirit, and a Holy Spirit.