Hi fellow person! If you get nothing else from these words, please remember that mental illness is NOT a sin.
Even in your deepest, darkest moments, know that struggling with mental health is not a sin and you’re not alone. One of the easiest thoughts to focus on when your symptoms are elevated is you’re completely alone. You’re alone and no one else knows what you’re going through and know one else understands. I’ve trapped myself in those thoughts before and it’s devastating. Ryan Reynolds or Michael B. Jordan could have told me I’m not alone and I wouldn’t have believed them. Well, okay maybe I could believe them, but nothing can get your out of that mindset when symptoms are at their worst. We all must to maintain our mental health as much as our physical health. Notice I said “we must,” not “we could.” Don’t let anyone belittle you for your choice to take care of yourself.
Christians have not always done the best job at supporting people who are hurting. The church has not always been perfect at offering grace and love to people with mental illness.
If you’ve experienced this, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry dear friend and I want you to know what you actually deserve. You deserve the help and you deserve to take care of yourself. You deserve to go to therapy, see your doctor, take medication if you need to, say “no” when you need to, say “yes” when you need to, and practice good lifestyle habits. If you don’t believe anyone else, believe God wants this for you.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”Jeremiah 29:11
Mental illness still carries a negative stigma but optimistically, I think this is becoming less and less true. It’s important to address depression more commonly at home, in the doctor’s office, in schools, and especially in church.
There’s several different reasons someone could have depression. Whether it’s genetics, hormones, a chemical imbalance, your environment, or other co-occurring diagnoses. To address depression, you have to be open, honest, and good at listening. This post focuses more on the friend or family member who knows or suspects someone has depression or mental illness.
This doesn’t mean running around and frantically asking everyone you see if they feel suicidal!!
Don’t assume that depression always looks obvious: the disheveled appearance, turned down mouth, empty eyes, crying, or huddled in the corner. Depression is often hard to identify and some people who experience depression do not have thoughts of harming themselves or others. Mental illness can even be easy to hide, depending on your personality and the severity of your symptoms. If someone is considering suicide, they likely won’t tell a stranger.
I wrote a post about some of my personal symptoms, How Depression Stole My Passion because I think it’s important to relate to others. CONNECTIONS! Because experiencing depressive symptoms makes you feel alienated. It makes you feel wrong, like as a human being your personality, your spirit, your very being is wrong, and it’s a numbing and debilitating feeling.
“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”– Robin Williams
1. Recognize The Signs
Just because depression doesn’t always look obvious, doesn’t mean it can’t jump out at you. I’ve seen people who aren’t my family, people who aren’t my clients with visible cutting scars on their arms or legs. I’ve seen the semicolon “;” tattoo which can signify depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, mental illness in general, or overall support for mental health issues.
The DSM-5 is the way psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health professionals diagnose mental health disorders. This is their criteria for diagnosing depression:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
- A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
The individual must be experiencing five or more symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.
WOW. It looks rough to see those symptoms all in one place, but it’s good to know what someone might be experiencing.
2. Don’t Focus On Why
Why not focus on “WHY” someone is depressed? Because sometimes, there’s no reason.
Situations can trigger you to be sad and depressed and of course, everyone feels this way now and again. But sometimes, there is no other reason for depression other than having clinical depression. There are many different categories in depression but that doesn’t always matter unless you’re a clinician and you’re providing treatment.
I bought the book, The Noonday Demon years before I had the courage to read it.
“You don’t think in depression that you’ve put on a grey veil and are seeing the world through the haze of a bad mood. You think that the veil has been taken away, the veil of happiness, and that now you’re seeing truly.”Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
It’s hard to think of friends and family going through life with a grey veil, a discolored look about the world that often looks hopeless and dull. I can assure you, people with depression desperately WANT to see hope in the world and bright colors. The “brain fog” is scary and lonely and helpless.
And sometimes, it’s easy to forget there’s a veil. Sometimes, depression makes it seem as though life is truly hopeless, dull, and without joy, even though it’s really your symptoms.
I found the cutest illustration ever on Pinterest, I didn’t create it and I don’t own it but I thought it was so perfect. When I’m at my worst, I isolate completely. I don’t want to be around anyone and I don’t think anyone should be around me. I don’t even want to be around me. Buuuuut…if someone offered to make me a nest? I think I might melt.
Most of the time when depression hits me, I would say the same thing – “I don’t know.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s still okay to ask someone “what’s wrong,” but keep in mind an outside source or circumstance isn’t always the culprit.
3. The HONEST Truth About Therapy
I’m about to give away the secret to therapy…are you ready? No tricks…no schemes…just the honest truth.
Therapy only works if you want to make a change. That’s it. It’s not magic. Your therapist or future therapist isn’t Harry Potter. Unless he is, then just, wow.
I think therapy has a reputation for being the cure-all after a problem or major event has occurred. I think people hope it’s the safety net that will catch them after a bad experience or a negative period in their lives. And hopefully it is, but it’s also often viewed as a one-size-fits-all treatment option. “Just go to therapy,” as if it were Disney World…now that’s a place that will change your life instantly.
The truth is, assuming you have a good clinician, progress in therapy is mostly up to you as the client. The best way therapy will work is to find someone you trust and enjoy talking to every week, or however often you go. Guaranteed, it’s way cheaper than Disney World but no one wears mouse ears. Of course, make sure they are credentialed as a licensed therapist, social worker, professional counselor, marriage & family therapist, or psychologist. Then make sure you like and trust them.
I had a session with a client once…
4. Support Doesn’t Look The Same For Everyone
The best thing you can do when you have a mental illness is create a support system. If you’re close with someone who has mental illness, help them create a support system.
Who do you trust?
5. Help or Encourage Creating a Mental Health Inventory
Everyday (okay not every everyday, but I’m becoming more consistent) I do a mental health inventory of my headspace, my body, and symptoms in general. It’s important to stay in tune with your body especially when you have a physical or mental illness. When you have depressive symptoms, manic episodes, or anxiety attacks and you don’t think about how it’s manifesting in your body and how to relieve your symptoms, that’s like jumping without a parachute.
I created an acrostic of the word “MENTAL” as a checklist to do an inventory of mental health symptoms with the hope that it would help others. Check it out here and let me know if it helped you!
It’s also important to prepare for symptoms. I could write a whole dissertation on preparing for symptoms. It’s a catch-22. On one hand, when you’re doing well and feeling minimal symptoms, you DON’T WANT to think about being depressed again.
Over and over I hear trauma stories from my clients and I see documentaries and the same thing is true for all survivors of trauma: YOU FEEL ALONE. Once a survivor starts opening up, finding supports, advocating for their well-being, and maybe participating in group or individual therapy, they no longer feel as alone.
That being said, it’s good to research your mental illness. Go to therapy if it helps you. Find support groups, watch documentaries, or read books about what you’re going through. I would NOT necessarily encourage doing this while you’re feeling symptoms. It could be triggering and increase your symptoms.
When you check in with yourself,
6. Recognize Helpful VS. Hurtful Words
Here’s examples of what NOT to say.
- “You don’t seem depressed!”
- “But your life looks perfect!”
- “Just get over it.”
- “Think positive!”
- “It’s all in your head.”
- “I know how you feel.”
- “Lighten up.”
- “When can you stop taking those meds?”
- “Just smile!”
- “You should…”
These comments can make it seem like the person’s problems and symptoms are being minimized. Think of someone with a broken arm…you wouldn’t tell someone with a broken arm to get over it. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken arm to lighten up and just smile. It’s also important to make a suggestion or ask someone what they need or want rather than saying “you should go for a run,” “you should come over,” or “you should…” fill in the blank. Someone with depression might have a hard time getting out of bed let alone going for a run or going to someone’s house.
Here’s examples of what TO say.
- “Is there anything I can get you?”
- “You’re not alone, I’m here for you.”
- “Can I pray for you?”
- “I love you.”
- “I’m sorry you’re in pain.”
- “Can I sit with you? We don’t have to talk.”
- “You are important.”
- “What do you do for self care?”
- “Do you mind doing my nails, you’re so good at it!”
- “Take as long as you need.”
It’s okay to not say anything. Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do.
It can be difficult to address mental health, but think of someone you care about deeply. If they are struggling, wouldn’t you want to acknowledge their struggle and walk alongside them if you can? You can’t help/fix everyone, especially if you want to maintain your own mental health.
This is the checklist I use often. I created an anagram of the word “mental” and do an inventory of each step. It’s