In my early twenties I sat in a counselor’s office and first heard these words, “You have depression and anxiety.” Relief flooded through me. There was a name for my struggles? Help for what I wanted to overcome? I wasn’t the only one who had ever felt this way? What I felt most was hope.
Then I heard different words from other voices, some subtle and others loud. They told me something must be wrong with my faith if I battled depression and anxiety. I just needed to pray more, read my Bible longer, try harder. The irony? It would take longer to recover from the shame and guilt others put on me than my actual diagnosis.
Carla Arges can relate to my experience, and maybe you or someone you love can too. After being diagnosed with Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder, Carla has become an advocate for those with mental illness. She shared her heart, wisdom, and what has helped her most on More than Small Talk this week.
Inform yourself as much as possible about the illness your friend or loved one is facing. There is a lot of misinformation out there. Knowing the truth can help you be more empathetic.
Be understanding of their limitations if they need to cancel plans, leave early or take a few days to get back to your text.
Just be there. Offer to go for a walk to get them moving. Suggest a coffee date to get them out of the house. Accompany them to their appointments to ensure they get there.
Avoid comparisons. Just because your uncle’s best friend’s girlfriend’s aunt was able to do something during their mental illness doesn’t mean your friend can. Mental illness impacts people differently.
Validate what they’re saying with phrases like “this must be hard for you” or “I can see that this is a real struggle”. People want and need to feel heard and understood, not have their pain minimized with comments like “calm down”, “don’t worry about it”, “stop thinking so negatively”.
Listen without judgement and avoid the urge to offer advice if you haven’t been asked for it. Opening up and feeling safe to share is a big deal. Honor the courage it’s taken to do that with reflective listening.
Be patient. Healing takes time and recovery is not a final destination.
Ask what they need. It’s hard to reach out in the midst of a struggle. Offering a helping hand may just be the lifeline your friend needs. Often the help is to just be there.
(Find this list and more resources from Carla on her site.)
This is what we all need to know: Mental illness is a diagnosis–it’s not an identity or destiny. It doesn’t change who we are, how much God loves us, or His ability to use us.
Together we can overcome the stigma, guilt, and shame of mental illness with compassion, grace, and brave love. As the saying goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Let’s make sure no one ever has to fight alone.
Cheering You On,
Listen to our powerful interview with Carla Arges about overcoming mental illness on More Than Small Talk this week. She shares her hope-filled story as well as how we can all support each other and end the stigma together.
Do you have a story to share too? March 14th is National Share Your Story Day. To celebrate and help you share your story, I’m offering a special on my bestselling online course, Be a Kick-Butt Writer by Friday: Beat the 7 Biggest Mistakes Writers Make so You Can Reach People and Your Creative Potential.