The Bible As a Basis for Good Mental Health
Empathy has been defined as "The intimate comprehension of another person's thoughts and feelings, without imposing our own judgment or expectations."
Even in usual life circumstances, this is not an easy task, but when you must travel the uneven emotional landscape of mental illness, the territory may be unfamiliar, harsh, and unyielding. Often, the individual and their family traverse unmarked trails, jungles of psychiatric jargon, and a huge gap between what's expected and what's experienced.
Mental illnesses are now more accurately being referred to as "brain disorders," and as such, they are physical, but they happen to affect one's ability to think, feel, and act. There is a continual struggle to establish and maintain some semblance of self-worth and self-respect. Complicating this struggle is not just the lack of support, but the lack of acceptance.
I have told friends and family members that when I am depressed, yes, I appreciate you calling and asking "How are you doing?" Don't stop doing that. Well-meaning, sincere, caring people stand at the top of the cellar door and call down to me, "Are you ok? I've been thinking about you. I know it's hard. Let me know if you need something." Yes! I need something! I need you to open that cellar door, walk down those shaky steps, to that dark, damp, musty place, and come sit beside me. You don't have to do anything. Just being there tells me you really care. Oftentimes, there is nothing you can say that will help the matter. Sometimes what you say will hurt the situation. (I know you mean well, so please don't see this as criticism.)
And there's something else you can do for me. Learn about my illness. Learn all you can. Understand me--the best representation of "me" that we can muster. It has been said that the greatest gift you can give another human being is listening, caring, and understanding . . . without trying to minimize or discount what someone tells you. That sounds an awful lot like empathy to me. . . and love.
Jesus said, in John 15:12, "Love one another as I have loved you." Jesus's love was all-encompassing; he didn't pick and chose those whom he would love. In fact, he was criticized for some unpopular choices. In the 1970's, this folk song was popular, "And They'll Know We are Christians By Our Love." Love is not a feeling. It's a choice. it is manifested by our actions. We honor others above ourselves, and put their needs first.
People with mental illness did not choose their lot. They did not page through a catalog, and order their affliction. "Hmmm....let's see...."depression" would give me a good reason to feel sorry for myself, and to keep others from expecting too much from me; but some "mania" would be nice because I could get a lot done and be the life of the party. But here's a special offer: "Two for the price of one! Available as a set." So, let me just write , "Bipolar Disorder" on the order form.
And life is so busy, I'd like a plausible reason to not have to finish my work, to not be any place when I'm supposed to be there; and heck, it's a built-in excuse for why I can't go somewhere if I don't want to . . .( I forgot because I have ADHD, you know!)
Please, tell yourself, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I." And tell others. A Voice Carries.