Principles of Support for Mental Illness are borrowed from NAMI Support Group Skill Workbook:4/02, by Joyce Burland, Ph.D. Director, NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program, page 25.a.
Notes on faith applications were written by Judy Beckman. They are that of the writer only and do not represent any National Alliance on Mental Illness organization, staff, employees, volunteers, or other members. Bible verses are New International Version. Call 567 225-6702 for unabridged comments or for free printed copies.
“God is our Refuge and our Strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”—Psalm 46:1
Each person is an individual with many attributes--a distinct personality with different looks, character, talents and skills raised within its own family type in an environment of varying opportunities. This diversity balances relationships and promotes growth, making society an interesting group of people that can live in harmony rather than opposition.
A characteristic that an individual shares with others does not erase everything that distinguishes him from them. So it is with mental illness. A person who has mental illness still is the unique individual he always was. Similar symptoms, problems, and treatments give something in common but do not make everyone with this affliction alike.
Just as those who have diabetes, arthritis, migraine headaches, or any other condition are not all put into one demeaning category, those who suffer from mental illness should not be considered separate from the rest of humanity. Each person's individuality outshines his problems.
Mental illness is not simply aggression or strange actions that a person chooses. Like every other disease, there is a physical component. The affected organ is the brain. Something is wrong in the brain to cause symptoms that manifest themselves in behavior changes or mood swings. These changes are not anything the victim can control any more than they can control symptoms of other diseases, such as pain, weakness, trembling, or debility. Like other diseases, medicine is used to restore a proper balance and reduce symptoms, allowing proper functioning.
Like some other conditions, such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis, there is no cure for mental illness, but research and new treatment methods give increasing hope for complete relief and a happy, independent lifestyle. A person with mental illness cannot just "get over it." They need help and constructive assistance. With a disorder of the mind it is just as impossible to organize thoughts as it is to walk with a broken leg. Someone else must do what the victim cannot do himself to secure appropriate treatment. They need as much medical help as a person with more observable physical problems.
Unfortunately no matter how much we try to live good, faithful, moral lives, things happen which are beyond control. Crises of war and abuse impact mental health as well as physical. Chronic stress and sleep deprivation which are part of these situations upset chemical functioning of the brain, causing breakdown which results in severe anxiety and depression—or post-traumatic stress syndrome.
This is as real as any other crippling disease. It is not “put on” and won’t go away by simple will power. It takes medical treatment to restore balance that dissolves disturbing symptoms of the mind. Medication, therapy, rest, nutritious diet, regular exercise contribute to healing disorder in the brain just as appropriate medical treatment heals other diseased organs or systems of the body.
Faith and hope in God has a calming effect on body and soul. Devotion to a loving all powerful God brings a constructive dimension that the world cannot duplicate. Troubling circumstances lose power when hearts are turned to One who cares, heals, and saves.
A frustration of mental illness is the difficulty of treatment which does not give immediate relief. Sometimes it takes a lot of time to find a correct diagnosis which leads to specific treatment. Then when medication is prescribed, it takes several days or weeks—not a few hours--to control symptoms and feel good again. Science is not at the point of fully understanding what goes on in the brain to cause disorder.
A simple act of the will to “snap out of it” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” will not work for a disease that steals control of thoughts and emotions. Patient perseverance while trusting in a sovereign God Who brings good from difficulty will make the situation more tolerable.
Belief in God Who understands all kinds of hurt within those who want His help provides soothing relief and consolation. Even when we are unable to articulate prayer because of restrictions of illness, God accepts yearnings of the heart and soul. He honors all good desires turned to Him. We are assured of His constant divine care as we participate in medical resources that bring relief. He uses compassion of those around us for healing strength.
This principle is a gold mine of wisdom for rising above problems. There is no comfort like that from one who walks in the same shoes. Knowing fears and anxieties are shared by another does much to lift burdens, especially with the greatly misunderstood disease of mental illness.
Sometimes mental illness is a part of a dual diagnosis which includes problems with addictions. I believe all types of support groups, whether Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, Overcomers Outreach, in connection with mental health treatment are very effective in producing permanent positive changes. Self help groups can be a most effective part of a balanced, comprehensive treatment program.
Studies show that those who integrate spirituality in the formula for better health have greater recovery. Faith has power to heal and restore. That doesn’t mean it always removes problems, especially in a disease which has no known cure, but receiving calming peace is a realistic expectation.
This principle is one about which I am most vocal. I do not understand why people must place blame and increase suffering for victims of mental illness, which is a brain disorder, an affliction they did not want or deserve any more than they want or deserve any other type of illness or misfortune. Health problems emanating from any other body part provoke sympathy and consolation instead of mockery and derision. This attitude not only scars individuals, it also scars society.
Antagonistic blaming and shaming prevent people from getting needed help. It leads to increased crises that turn into tragedies. Instead of resorting to research for objective analyses and problem solving, it keeps us stuck in false distortions which stifle progress.
People insist on ignoring the fact that there is no greater percentage of violence among those who suffer from mental illness than there is among the general population. Anger is an emotion everyone has, whether well or ill. For many reasons unrelated to illness, some choose not to control this emotion, making life in society more and more threatening.
I can attest to admirable integrity and sweet spirits of those with whom I am acquainted who suffer various forms of mental disorders. I honor them for good patient forbearance of those who misjudge them. It hurts my heart to hear flippant derogatory words in reference to an illness which involves much emotional and sometimes physical pain. I take every opportunity to fight error with truth. By the grace of God, I extend compassionate comfort that extinguishes ignorance and hatred to help heal individuals and society. To God be the glory!
Within various types of mental diagnoses there are different experiences of suffering, whether it is from threatening delusions, terrifying hallucinations, crippling compulsions, nagging obsessions, paralyzing anxiety, exhausting euphoria, deep hopeless depression. Different symptoms result in equally undesirable and uncontrollable behaviors. Overall there is shame and humiliation of having a misunderstood, highly stigmatized disease. Added to this are uncomfortable physical problems that are side effects of necessary psychotropic medications. This is a picture of very real emotional distress that can challenge the spirit.
Focusing on pain makes it worse. Comparing pain increases the burden. Too much negative discussion can become self pity instead of empathetic understanding that refreshes the soul. Warm compassion from someone who walks in the same shoes is an uplifting way to shift focus. Trade-off is nourishing acceptance in the circle of imperfect humanity instead of alienating misjudgment.
This principle of support is most refreshing. It is difficult to cope with a disease that is as misunderstood as mental illness. Only recently has the scientific community had tools to study what is physically going on in the brain that causes symptoms. It is not yet possible to get a precise diagnosis which leads to most effective treatment in all situations. We can only do the best we can with available resources.
If things don't turn out the way we had hoped, it is best to learn from experience and continue looking for a better solution. Self blame is not productive, leading to a draining downward cycle of negativity that blocks progress. Even when we lose patience, saying or doing things that we know aren't right, it is useful to immediately admit wrong and forgive all mistakes and shortcomings. This renews energy for creative perseverance in expectation of better outcomes.
This principle of support is a coping mechanism that gives a multitude of blessings not only for the afflicted but for everybody exposed to funny, uplifting dialogue despite burdens of a very serious illness.
My late husband had that unusual gift of an indestructible sense of humor. His wit communicated enthusiasm and unconditional Christian love for everyone he knew. Though he lived with chronic painful health problems, he refreshed surroundings with a transforming floodlight of fun, lighthearted joy. It was impossible to be depressed around him. He would find a way to make a person laugh and cast aside any cloak of sadness. If he had any "down" times, they weren't noticeable. Even when cancer ravaged his body, he handled it by wallowing in humor, having entertaining, inspiring banter with people the illness brought to his new situation.
One difficult day after a doctor visit, I commented, "This is a serious matter, and you're being silly."
To my astonishment, my husband responded, "Honey, if I have to go through this, I'm going to have fun."
And he sure did! He knew this disease was carrying him to a glorious mansion in heaven, and he insisted on taking advantage of every opportunity for cheerful enjoyment of the journey.
Rather than being inappropriate, humor is the finest way to handle difficult challenges. Laughter has the power to brighten, uplift, and celebrate the best of everything.
This coping mechanism may be one we'd prefer not to think about. It seems to derail hopes and expectations.
We want to believe we can knock out the terrible intrusion of a mental disorder on thoughts, moods, behavior. We do everything in our power to master the opponent. We consult experts, go to doctors and therapists, take medication, practice good health habits, pray, rest, go to groups, give utmost sympathy and empathy. But it still casts a heavy burden. Although recovery is possible and happens in many situations, mental illness is an incurable disease that requires daily management.
Time comes when we have experienced all current effective treatments. However, things aren't the same. We are living with unwanted limitations, "a new normal." Focusing on what mental illness cannot steal--character, integrity, intelligence, faith, hope, and dreams--reduces its power. This freeing attitude makes the best of situations, giving unconquerable contentment. We are not a diagnosis or a label. We are distinct personalities, children of a sovereign loving God who transforms negatives into positives.
Through Him we can live happy, purpose-filled lives--in some instances even richer ones because of challenges imposed by illness. This is the greatest healing miracle!
This statement is more reasonably optimistic today than ever. Many, many good things are happening to make life better for those who suffer from mental illness.
Unfortunate tragedies among people from all walks of life have brought the topic of mental illness to the forefront, ending silence and demanding productive discussion. More funding is allocated to research which produces better tools and techniques for studying the brain. This leads to enlightened knowledge which further clarifies disorders of the brain. This enables better medical treatments.
Prevention is being addressed in factual, logical language, pointing to immediate help which avoids crises. Legal binds hindering access to treatment have been overturned. Individuals are pushing through a wall of secrecy to tell stories of "average" harmless people coping with a very real but misunderstood disease. These stories subdue frightful myths that block attempts for successful handling of the problem. Statistics are improving for reclaiming a full, independent lifestyle with manageable health issues. Compassionate care will replace negativity, elevating mental illness to the same respected ranks of other diseases we want to fight and conquer.
Spiritual influences are recognized as helpful in the scientific community and are being added to the table of legitimate recovery aids. Those who value faith are exploring practices that make daily life more comfortable, preserving an inner peace that does not have to be surrendered to illness. Prayerful expectation increases hope for a society where stigma is brought down by enhanced life giving truth.
We’re in a time when walls are breaking down and momentum is building for constructive handling of the problem of mental illness. Cost to society of ignorance and primitive attitudes is being calculated. We realize that mental health discussion must be prioritized to stem a path of chaotic destruction affecting all of us. We cannot insulate ourselves anymore.
Many famous people are exposing toll of mental illness on their families. Every time one speaks up, more are empowered to push aside shame and tell their stories. One in four people have mental illness. Added to this statistic are caregivers and loved ones who are directly affected. Individually and together we can take advantage of every opportunity to combat oppressing error with liberating truth.
We are not in this battle alone. National Alliance on Mental Illness is a leader in providing education, advocacy, support services for those affected by mental illness. Depending on objective professional data, they reduce problems to manageable handling and give direct, appropriate referrals. A contact with NAMI prevents much frustration and many fruitless efforts.
One individual’s contribution can make a big difference in the fight for better life for those affected by mental illness. I am encouraged by remembering the biblical story of David. A bold, faithful little boy killed one big giant, Goliath, with one stone. This gives enormous hope that results of small efforts for a daunting cause are multiplied by power of Almighty God. If God is for us, who can be against us?!
NAMI is the best place to start for straightforward advice to help someone with mental illness. All services are free. National NAMI can refer you to a NAMI chapter in your area. National office of NAMI can be reached at: