We are less than 1 week away from Christmas, which is something I have been awaiting in eager anticipation for the past…51 weeks. Christmas season brings about festivities which are unrivalled by other holidays, whether it be the gatherings with family and friends, the colourful lights, the carols echoing around the malls, and most importantly, the commemoration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is no wonder the Christmas holidays is labelled as the ‘season of joy’.
Unfortunately, the reality is that mental illnesses do not abide by holiday seasons, and they generally do not allow the individual the freedom to take a break from its symptoms. As someone who has experienced OCD and anxiety for most of my life, I can say first-hand that my symptoms have generally remained during holiday seasons, even though the smile which is present during festive seasons may suggest otherwise.
Through this post, I hope that I can provide some encouragement to those whose loved ones are struggling with their mental health. The following are several pointers which I trust will be helpful.
Listening is essential when it comes to caring for someone with mental struggles. Unfortunately, our instincts often prompt us to intervene and advise without properly allowing an opportunity for the other person to explain his/her struggles.
It is crucial that you patiently listen to what your loved ones have to share. One of the few things more difficult than sharing about your mental struggles, is to be interrupted whilst you are trying to share. I am not saying at all that you stay silent and purely listen for the whole time, of course it is natural for both persons to speak whilst in conversation. My encouragement is for you to demonstrate to your loved ones that you are willing to patiently listen to their burdens, even if it means ‘biting your tongue’ when you feel compelled to interject with your own input. I can assure you it will be greatly appreciated.
2. (Try to) Understand.
It is difficult to empathise over something which you have not experienced yourself, and this is particularly applicable when it comes to mental health struggles. Some of the misconceptions which I have come across include the belief that depression arises out of mental weakness, anxiety can dissipate if you simply think more positively, and that OCD is restricted to strange repetitive behaviours. Unfortunately, mental disorders are much more complex than what meets the eye.
If you have a loved one who is suffering from a mental disorder, I strongly encourage you to do some research to enhance your own understanding of what he/she is going through. Useful mediums include reading educational books, reading credible websites, watching documentaries, talking to someone who is familiar with the disorders, and of course – talking to the affected person. Whilst it does require sustained and extensive research to better understand something as complex as mental disorders, it will allow you to deepen your understanding on the symptoms and underlying factors, as well as educate you on how to better respond when your loved ones begin exhibiting the symptoms. It will require a lot of effort and it will be time-consuming, but trust me, it will be worth it.
The unfortunate reality is that persons with mental disorders may exhibit behaviours which are very different to the norm, to the extent where it can be difficult to cope with at times. A person with autism may demonstrate poor social awareness and be unable to read social cues. A person with bipolar disorder may interact very sociably towards you one week, and then ignore you the following week for no apparent reason. A person with an anxiety disorder may seemingly overreact to something which in your view is ‘no big deal’. And a person with depression may appear to ignore your efforts to care for them, when in reality they simply do not have the energy to respond. On the surface the above behaviours could easily offend others around, however there are underlying factors for the behaviour which are very complex to understand.
It is crucial that you persevere in your care for someone with mental illness, even in the face of behaviours which may repel you at times. It is unfortunate that many people with mental disorders which affect their social capabilities are often alienated from their peers and even loved ones, and often there are very few who are willing to persevere through the challenging times with them. It can be difficult to remain patient and persevere in the face of behaviours which we do not understand, which is why it is essential that we rely on God for guidance.
Most importantly, remember to pray.
Often when we encounter strife, we turn to our own means to find a resolution, and in turn forget to rely on the God who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). We forget that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). We forget that our God is with us as we walk through the darkest valleys (Psalm 23:4), and that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
When your loved ones are suffering with their mental health, do not forget to pray for them AND pray with them, and to persevere in prayer through the better and worse times.
by Enoch Hui