“I wish they would stop telling me to pray”

Words I’ve heard far too many times as I’ve sat across from individuals who are distraught and feeling exhausted by the weight of the struggles they are battling connected to their mental health.  

“What makes hearing this so difficult” I say, to which they respond (in some variation):

“It makes me feel unheard, unseen, misunderstood, and ultimately I feel alone”.  

Many of the individuals I hear expressing these types of concerns are not averse to praying at all, their complaints are not a sign of them rejecting their faith.  No, many of these cries come from Bible believing, Christ followers who are battling serious mental illness, and have reached out to their Christian community (friends, pastor, mentors etc.) for help.  There seems to be a growing pattern of folks feeling misunderstood by well meaning Christians in their lives.  

Battling mental illness is incredibly challenging for the individual walking through the illness themselves, and it is also a difficult road to navigate for the people who support them.  I have witnessed many loved ones express feeling distraught and overwhelmed when their loved one seems ‘stuck’ and unable to make progress with their mental health. 

So, what should one do when all they want is to help, but their efforts seem to be doing the opposite?  Let me share a few helpful tips:

Helpful things to say and do when supporting a loved one battling mental illness

  • Be available to them and let them know you care
  • Give them permission to express themselves
  • Create a safe space that is judgment free for them to be honest
  • Actively listen, then ask ‘is there more?’
  • Pray with them, and for them
  • Encourage them to seek professional help for ongoing support (i.e. talk-therapy)
  • Accompany them to medical appointments if needed
  • Model self-care and wellness practices that will help decrease the stigma of reaching out for help
  • Educate yourself and increase your knowledge on mental health

Things to avoid saying and doing when supporting loved ones battling mental illness

  • Saying you are available when you are not able to follow through
  • Comparing their feelings and or emotional distress to your own
  • Telling them to ‘try harder’ or suggest they need to be ‘doing’ more
  • Offer unsolicited suggestions and advice
  • Invalidating and dismissive comments (‘just pray’ ‘it could be worse’, ‘try not to think about it’, ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’ etc.)

In Psalms 34:18 we read: The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.   So, for those who desire to support their loved ones in distress, don’t minimize the power of your presence.  As God makes Himself present to us in our brokenness and if nothing else, just remain WITH those you love when they are struggling with their mental health.

Hold my hand, allow me to cry, tell me you are there.  Hold your suggestions, your feedback, your observations, and just help me feel that you are with me in this difficult time. – Unamed