Standing in the gap against mental illness

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This is not how I planned to write this editorial. I planned to remind you of the devastating impact mental health issues have on our community, even within our Church. I was going to share some stats, like how one in four Australians suffer from a mental health problem.* Then I was going to share some tips on how to live with and support someone struggling with these issues. Maybe I’ll finish that article some day. But it feels right to do it this way. This story is my heart’s cry.

My wife suffered severe ongoing abuse as a child. It left her with scars—scars that are not always visible to the curious eye but to one who has “known” her, they are there—under the surface, marking her soul, blistering her skin, bleeding internally. As one who loves her, who is “one” with her, her scars become my scars. They are left to me to heal, to bind up: to comfort her and hold her as she cries, to bear the brunt of her anger when the pain gets too much for her to contain or suppress.

I am not complaining. She has endured and experienced far more pain than I ever will. And so I endure. For her, for myself, for our marriage, a rock battered by the storms of life, strong in the tempests of travail.

I realise how hard it can be to support someone who suffers from a mental illness, whatever the cause. I’ve felt the loneliness, the shared despair, the irrational fights and the internal conflict to hold onto control, to carry the burden of someone who is struggling to carry themselves. It is an isolating existence. You feel a duty not to damage or dishearten the sufferer any further. Often, you don’t even realise they are in another season of difficulty—how long they’ve been struggling and how tough it has been—until they crack. You respect their wishes so you don’t share their affliction with anyone. You try to carry it yourself—until it becomes too heavy to bear.

If you find yourself on a journey like this, with a loved one suffering from mental illness, make sure you look after yourself so you can continue to help them.

The problem sits in the back of my mind. It makes me less productive—some days I sit at work, still upset, still processing what is happening to the woman I love. The pressure builds. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells. You feel that if you put a foot wrong, if you react in the wrong way, or say or do the wrong thing, it will be your fault that they suffer, your fault that their carefully constructed peace crumbles. Maybe you even feel like it’s your fault they are suffering because you haven’t been able to help or heal them.

It’s not your fault. But you can’t carry the burden alone. Talk to a close friend or family member, a pastor or counsellor, and make sure you have the support you need. Don’t blame yourself. Stick by them. [pullquote]

This is a mental and physical battle that must be fought on those fronts, but it is also a spiritual one.

I love my wife deeply, and I pray for God to help me to love her more, to help my love heal the love that has been marred, corrupted. And yet it is a long process. Often the one you love—be they a spouse, a parent, a child—will withdraw and want to isolate themselves from community—from church, school, work, friends. Medication or counselling will not work overnight and sometimes will only work for a season. You have to be prepared to be there for the long haul. They may push you away and pick irrational fights. You may not understand their reactions to seemingly normal situations. That’s okay.

Keep praying and never lose heart. It’s what they need and what God wants. He can and is willing to bring hope and healing to you and your loved ones (sometimes in unexpected ways), to fight the powers of darkness that threaten to overwhelm, and break the chains of affliction and the strongholds of despair that the enemy has set up in our lives. After all, Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted and set the captives free. What they need is for you to be there: to hold them and to love them; to support and encourage them, hopefully to strengthen them to seek the help they need; and to walk with them on their journey.

* If you or someone you love is suffering from mental health issues, please seek support and professional help.

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