I am a devout Christian, I love God and believe in the power of faith, that it can give us the courage to keep going in the hardest of trials, give us hope in a better future, and build us up when we are down. But there is something I have found incredibly hard and painful over the past year as I started to admit that behind my cheerful, put together facade, I have suffered from serious anxiety and depression for most of my life, and finally sought personal and professional help for it.
“Are you praying?”, “Remember to pray!”, “Pray more”, “You need to have faith!”, “Don’t forget to pray”, “Rely on God and he will sustain you!”, all things and so many more than have been said to me with the best of intentions, but have hurt me and my faith so deeply. Why?
Because when you tell someone to just keep praying and relying on God to help them with their depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any other number of mental health issues, you are basically telling them that if they had enough faith, then they would be better, they would be given power beyond the normal to heal, and that if they don’t heal, then they are unworthy of the help they are praying for. Those words can make you feel as if you’re doing something wrong, you are inadequate, useless. I know it is not intended that way, people mean well, but when their only support is to quote a scripture and then leave you alone it certainly can feel very painful.
The thing I have found with admitting you suffer from mental health issues is that you are often left on your own to deal with this deadly illness because it lacks the physical signs or test results that someone battling cancer or diabetes have.
There are no phone calls to ask if you need help getting to your doctor appointments, or offers to have your children for the day while you attend therapy, there are no meals dropped off for your family for the nights you are too sick to cook, there are no (or very few) visitors to see you in hospital. There is even a lack of people asking how you are, maybe for fear that you might tell them and go on and on and on for hours listing the many issues you face, maybe for fear that they will upset you by mentioning it, or maybe because they simply feel uncomfortable with a condition they don’t understand or feel you cause yourself by not “thinking positive” or “praying harder”.
The result is to feel more isolated than ever, rejected from those in your congregation who you turned to for help, alone with the fear that because you can’t think positively and face the fact that others maybe have it worse, you are unworthy to live, incapable of being loved. To feel that because God has not sent you some kind of superhuman strength to deal with your downs, the nightmares, the memories, the sadness, the panic, the fear, that you are not worth His love or care, that He does not want YOU. You feel alone, isolated, and more and more you find yourself wondering why you keep holding on to life, battling the suicidal thoughts and feelings, putting your exit plan off for another 24 hours, because why stay in a world where you are unwanted and a burden to those few people who do love you?
So please, next time you consider telling someone to think positively, or to keep praying, please don’t. Just sit with them and listen to what they have to say, offer to make a meal (they are unlikely to accept anyway, but the offer means so much), ask them if you can help them get to appointments, and support and encourage them to keep holding on because YOU CARE if they are alive. By all means do gently assure them that their prayers are heard and remind them of the power of prayer, always assume they are already pouring their heart out, and offer to say a prayer for them.
Don’t ever assume someone is where they are in their mental illness because they don’t have faith, or because they don’t think positively, you do not know what has happened in their life, you do not know how they got to where they are. Maybe their faith is all that is keeping them going, be careful that you don’t ever suggest that they do not have enough!