Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden
Many readers of this blog are concerned with how to be an effective support, how to “be there” for a depressed loved one. There are plenty of answers to that question, so let’s look at the basics.
Helping in a relevant way begins with realizing our human basic need for meaningful relationships.
Eastern State Penitentiary is a nearly two hundred year-old, closed prison originally built with rehabilitation in mind. It was a state-of-the-art, unique to the world institution when it was constructed in 1829. The theory behind it was isolation provides criminals time to reconsider their misdeeds and become “penitent,” or reformed citizens.
Each of these prisoners had important relationships within the penitentiary – the guards who silently dropped off their food every day and who gave them a few minutes outside in the sun. These sentinels were valued for what good they offered, nonetheless there was no deep connection with them. These relationships were feared as well. Men in charge would abuse their power with psychological and physical punishments.
Interaction with anyone else was forbidden. Cell doors were designed to filter out noise. Outside, the exercise area was divided by high walls so prisoners couldn’t communicate. Inmates were not allowed to have any visits with family or friends. This severe disconnect from meaningful relationships caused prisoners to lose their minds. Clearly, isolation is insidiously harmful, and no cure for waywardness.
Isolation as a symptom of depression is both fuel for and a response to the disease. We can struggle with this aspect of a loved one’s pain and may be tempted to tell him or her to just quit hiding. In Christian circles, this lack of understanding might sound more like, “Just talk to God. He hears you. You’re never alone.” The implication is we do not have to suffer loneliness or depression because we have God.
No self-aware Christian actually believes that. We all face pain because of rejection or isolation at times. If our relationship with God is all we need, the complete picture of our joy and peace, he would not have made us for each other. If communion with him is the fulfillment of every aspect of the abundant life he promises, there would have been no cause for both Adam and Eve. Why would he bless us with children, friends, co-workers, or the church?
Truth is, he didn’t intend to be the only relationship we ever need. Of course, he is the ultimate satisfaction for all yearnings of the heart; you have no argument from me on that point. He is also the creator, provider, and way-maker. Often, he builds us up by leading us to the right people at the right time.
For an individual with depression, mental health professionals are some of those right people. As supports, we can be effective help by sitting beside, listening to, and patiently waiting through our loved one’s struggle.
God created us for each other as well as for him. He meets our legitimate need for connection by placing us in the path of other human beings.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.
*picture of arms from qualitystockphotos.com