May is Mental Health Awareness Month, as the spouse to someone who suffers from mental health illness, this month is an important one to me. Over the last few years, we’ve learned how to live with these illnesses and take care of our collective & individual mental health, our shalom is connected and when one of us isn’t well we aren’t well.
Stigma surrounding Mental Health
Having been close to ministry and in a ministry dense life, I can tell you there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and the church. We need to do better.
Stigma is when someone, or even you yourself, views a person in a negative way just because they have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as a feeling of shame or judgement from someone else. Stigma can even come from an internal place, confusing feeling bad with being bad.
Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out, getting needed support and living well. Learning how to avoid and address stigma are important for all of us, especially when you realize stigma’s effects:
- People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult.
- Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability across the United States.
- Even though most people can be successfully treated, less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need.
- The average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for all Americans.
I proudly support my husband in his journey to get the help he needs to be his best self. I love him, no matter what his disease makes him feel, and I stand beside him on the journey to getting help. Raising awareness of mental health will help diminish the stigma that is associated with it in many circles. Don’t feel bad for those with mental health conditions, support them in a caring way.
When someone approaches you and tells you about their mental health, remember they are confiding in you. They trust you to listen and not fix their problem and not share this with others. If they are seeing a therapist then they have someone helping them. If they aren’t seeing a therapist yet, although they’ve come to you, encourage them that seeking a professional is not a sign of weakness. It is a brave step in trusting God and those He has given strengths to guide and help heal.
This person clearly trusts you and wants to let you in on what they are experiencing, it’s important to listen and be present for them when they need to talk about what is happening. If this is in a church environment it is ok to ask if they want you to pray for them, particularly for healing and support. But don’t say:
- God will get you through this.
- He won’t give you more than you can handle.
- Pray harder.
Please, don’t say this to anyone. Ever.
Listen with an open heart and mind. Ask what you can do (beyond praying) to support them through this time. This could be calling to check in on them, taking them for a day out or bring them a favorite snack. Don’t let your conversations always dwell on this person’s illness, you can ask how they are doing but if they don’t want to talk about it that’s ok. If you are worried about them, tell them and tell them why.
Preparing for a Mental health Crisis
You CANNOT prepare for everything. Sometimes you have to make a plan, have all your resources available and then wing it.
When you or a loved one has mental health illness it’s important to not only talk about what they are going through but how to handle a crisis. They may not be cooperative during a crisis so knowing what, you as the caregiver is going, to do is important so you can make the best decisions when they cannot.
Make a list of 3 things each of you will do in the event of a crisis.
- Try to calm them down, discuss ahead of time things that can and have helped in the past.
- Call a mental health hotline. The Suicide hotline is available 24/7 and available for anyone to talk 1-800-273-8255
- If you cannot calm down the situation, go to a local crisis center. If you cannot get them to go, call 911. Although the paramedics may not be the most sympathetic, they do have the resources to help.
Suicide prevention/awareness month isn’t technically until October. But I wanted to address it this month because it so often is the result of untreated mental health issues. Having suicidal thoughts doesn’t make someone weak or flawed. It can be a result of many factors.
According to NAMI:
According to the CDC, each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24; these rates are increasing.
Risk Factors for Suicide Research has found that about 90% of individuals who die by suicide experience mental illness. A number of other things may put a person at risk of suicide, including:
- A family history of suicide.
- Substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol can result in mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts.
- Intoxication. More than one in three people who die from suicide are found to be currently under the influence.
- Access to firearms.
- A serious or chronic medical illness.
- Gender. Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to die by suicide.
- A history of trauma or abuse.
- Prolonged stress.
- Age. People under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide.
- A recent tragedy or loss.
- Agitation and sleep deprivation.
Know this, suicide is a side effect of mental illness. Wanting to be free of pain, is a natural reaction. Finding ways to support your loved ones through this is not easy, open communication is important. And a plan of action for a crisis is essential in this most ultimate situation.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Call 911 or use the Crisis Text Line: Text “NAMI” to 741741Tweet
What I hate most is when I open up to others about my husband’s mental health struggles and my coping and self care, and someone says,”You need to pray more” or “God will take care of you.” I often remember these verses from James 2:14-16:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
What good is it to care for the spiritual and not the physical needs of a person? James understood we must provide and care for an entire persons well being; spiritual, physical, and emotional. I also know, that God can do anything, I also believe God works through other people. Especially, those who are called to be therapist, counselors, and those who are in our lives that love & support us.