Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2013 Nancy Virden
Many of us have heard of Pastor Rick Warren and the tragic news of his son’s suicide this past Friday evening. After spending a few hours with his parents, Matthew Warren went home and killed himself. I can guarantee a few things are happening now:
(1)Rick and Kay Warren are questioning repeatedly what they missed in Matthew’s demeanor or anything he said. (2) They are wondering what they could have, should have done differently not just Friday, but all of Matthew’s life. (3) They are tempted to blame someone, anyone. They have felt at least a twinge of anger at each other, have questioned God, “Why?” and are temporarily angry at Matthew. (4) Others outside the family are debating Matthew’s eternal situation. (5) The Warren family, especially the parents, is being judged.
It is not easy to admit mental illness in the family. The fact is, people do judge. Matthew Warren suffered with Bipolar Disorder his entire life. One aspect of that condition is bipolar depression, different from yet every bit as severe as major depression.
This morning I heard a prayer at my church from a man who honestly admitted he did not understand the pain that those of us with chronic depression endure. He asked God for the wisdom to “not hurt those who suffer when we think we are helping.” It is encouraging to know some people consider this. There are not always set rules on what to say to a person who is suffering, however, there are certain messages to avoid.
- Snap out of it; don’t worry, be happy; look on the bright side. These ideas invalidate the hurting person’s feelings, and perhaps their character. Even if not meant directly, it is strongly implied, “You are a failure for feeling so badly.”
- God doesn’t want you to feel this way; trust Jesus; joy will come when your priorities are Jesus, others, then you. Talk about condemnation! How encouraging could it possibly be to inform someone in emotional agony that they are selfish and spiritually deficient?
- “Just…” . Nothing about depression or suicidal ideation is easy. It is a long road ahead for recovery, and some know it is a daily decision to be as healthy as possible. No “just”s about it.
- I know what you feel. This is difficult to avoid because in our enthusiasm to help we may want the discouraged person to know we can relate, that they are not alone. Problem is, this statement implies that we, our pain, our recovery process, and our means of hope are identical to theirs. This is never true, not ever.
- Medications are not the answer; you can get off those soon; people in the past didn’t have those meds and they did OK. a) Medications are not a cure-all or happy pills. They have to be taken as prescribed, and cannot be safely dropped without psychiatric supervision. They help the brain react in normal working order, then decisions can be made. b) As for people in the past… history tells a different story than the one where they were all OK without medical help.
- Look only for godly counsel, from a Christian, and never trust secular psychology. I have heard godly (righteous) and ungodly (sinful) counsel from both Christians and non-Christians. A surprise to me is how very ill-equipped many biblical, pastoral, and christian counselors can be due to lack of training or improper training with regard to mental illness. An aversion to psychology backfires when we dismiss centuries of study on human behavior. Blanket advice such as this can deter someone from the best care possible.
Let’s remember that similar to the Warren family, those struggling with grievous tragedy are hurting big-time whether majorly depressed or not. Does it make sense to make any of the above statements to Matthew Warren’s parents? Of course not. In the same way, those with mental illness are also painfully aware and overwhelmed by loss.
Be gentle with each other today.
NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
To the other commentator: Thank you for writing, although I am concerned that what you had to say is dangerous. Sometimes all that stands between a person in despair and suicide is the doubt as to whether it is ok spirtually. To not only say it is ok, but to express the opinion that it may be glorifying to God and helpful to others is not wise. I am sure you mean well and intend to encourage survivors, but as one who has been there, I can tell you a post like yours would have added confirmation to my determination to die. A suicide statistic does not bring glory to God. A life lived in His strength and courage, does. I am glad God is working good out of the situation despite your daughter’s boyfriend’s despair and suicide.
Very good perspective. The sooner depression is looked at as an illness, the sooner it will be treated as such. Unfortunately, the sufferer is often made to feel like they are inferior spiritually. Even with treatment and support, depression is difficult to cope with. How much harder is it for the person being told they just need to be stronger and shake it off?
Thank you, Rachel. There is more on this in my post “But isn’t Depression a Spiritual Problem?”