Mental Health: What To Say (Part 1/2)
I'm not sure I even need to begin by saying mental health can leave most of us awkward, nervous and temporarily mute. So perhaps it is best to start with a few of the ways we can begin aspiring to the Christ-like love to which we are called.
1. How can I pray for you?
The goal when speaking to anyone is to know them well enough to pray for them. If you are aware that they may need prayer more intensely in this period of their life, move towards them. We are called to come beside those who suffer, remind them that God hears, ask them to consider the promises of God , and tell them that they are going to be on our heart.
An even better version of this question is “How could I pray for you now?” If you ask this question, no surprise: you have to pray. Right there and then. And then you have to follow up. Remember what you prayed for and check in to see how it’s going.
Keep praying until you have witnessed God on the move in their life. And then pray some more.
Asking someone how you can pray for them can also be a good conversation in which to discuss priorities with them. If someone is struggling with getting through their day to day life, it could be helpful to establish a goal and some smaller steps to achieve it. The goal can be as small as having breakfast once a week. Or sleeping for a full hour. Whatever the goal, make sure to celebrate the small steps when achieved. It may also be helpful to bring the family and community in to help determine these priorities and change them over time if needed. However, as we’ll see in the next section, your friend may not always know what the priorities are.
2. Don’t wait to be called, just figure out what needs to be done and do it.
First, try to pick up on to-do lists that are growing and identify tasks that are especially important.
Rather than barge in and do superfluous tasks or tidy their kitchen so that they can’t find anything, listen and understand the person. You can get ideas from people who know your friend well, or from someone who has had a similar experience. There is also nothing wrong with the direct approach and asking the suffering person “would it help if I emailed you all the lecture notes and homework?”
Second, do it.
Walk the dog, do the dishes, drop off a meal, cut the grass, baby-sit the kids, record the lectures etc.
Third, move towards the family.
Most often, they’ll carry the burden silently. Commit to pursuing them and helping them without having to be asked. Allow them to speak openly about their experience without being judged, and enable them to ask for help without feeling selfish.
Any of these acts of love and service make life easier for the person. They say “I remember you,” “I think about you often,” “you are not forgotten, you are on my heart,” “I love you.”
3. What’s it like for you?
As we seek to move toward the person and try to get to know them better, the first step is to reduce ‘psychologised’ words to the underlying description. What do the words mean to the person? You can think of a psychiatric term as just a shorthand for the person’s feelings, thoughts and actions. Depression is just a title; worthlessness and guilt are words we know. Here’s an example of how you can get to know someone's experience better:
“Nice to see you. How are you?” “
"Yeah good, how are you?”
“Yeah good. Hows work?”
“My boss is being pretty harsh on me.”
“Yeah, bosses can be harsh sometimes…”
OR “Sorry to hear you’re having problems at work. Would you like to tell me a bit more about it? What’s going on?”
Try repeating back to them what you have heard of their experience and how you understand it. You may want to offer a quick fix or some advice, but what they really need is for you to love them well by demonstrating that you care about their situation.
Make sure that your words, attitude, and tone all communicate genuine concern and care.
[This afternoon we’ll look at two more helpful ways we can speak to our suffering friends:
4. Mentioning the elephant in the room
Abby became a Christian aged 20 and joined the More Precious team a year ago to oversee City Reps. Abby graduated in Psychology from Sheffield and then spent some time with CCEF studying biblical counselling in the USA. Abby is now continuing to study back home with Biblical Counselling UK and gaining experience before applying for the Clinical Psychology Doctorate. Abby has been touched personally by the destructive effects of mental health and is, God-willing, dedicated to the battle against mental illness from all angles.