Being a Friend to Those With Mental Struggles

Dr. Tim AllchinFor Those Giving Help10 Comments

Have you ever been the person who got asked to help in these types of situations? Or have you seen something similar happen from a distance?

  • People running into the auditorium asking for assistance to help a man clearly having some sort of mental breakdown, curled up in a ball in the church lobby. People walking by and looking but not knowing what to do.
  • Your friend frantically calls you to come over to watch/take his kids for the night after his wife was screaming on the front porch for people to leave, but no one was in the yard, it was all imagined. He is trying to convince her to go to the ER for relief.
  • You get a late-night phone call from a freaked-out parent who discovers scars on their sleeping 13-year-old daughter’s arms. You were their youth leader at camp, and you wonder now what to do.
  • Someone in your small group is telling stories that can’t be true. As you gently pry, it becomes clear that perception is far from reality and anxiety is in control, yet clumsily hidden from view. It’s awkward, but it has to be addressed.

It’s all pretty heavy stuff to deal with, but do you know the single best thing you can do to help someone with mental struggles or illness?

You might have thought that since I am a professional counselor I would have said to “immediately send them to a professional counselor.” It probably would help, but it isn’t the most helpful thing that most people can do to be useful in most cases.

Here it is: Be their friend!

Take the “one another” verses in scripture and live it together with them. Those with mental struggles are not a project to be fixed. They are not a problem to be managed. They are people that are made in the image of God. They have worth and dignity endowed by their creator. Consider the following directives from the scripture in light of how we treat those with mental struggles.

Here are five ways that any Christian can be a good friend with those enduring mental struggles. 

  • Seek to treat them as image-bearers – “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7) “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
  • Spend time with them as a friend  – “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9) “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
  • Speak bold and clear truth to help anchor them – “Encourage one another daily…” (Hebrews 3:13) “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
  • Serve them and with them as they serve others  “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10) “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
  • Stop the stigma surrounding mental struggles in the church “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13) “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)

How would it impact the lives of those with mental struggles if they had people in their lives committed to living with them in this type of community?

If churches are going to be effective in shepherding those with mental struggles, it will require an investment in the relationship. You can’t effectively help those with mental struggles by treating each person the same.

Our goal must be to love all who suffer with the love of Christ and enter into their struggle with the hope that God gives. We must patiently and persistently help those with mental struggles understand and apply the wisdom of the Word to the practical issues of life, and ensure medical care for them when the Word doesn’t seem to be comprehensible.

People tend to turn back to those who spoke the truth to them when they need it most, even if they have seemingly rejected the source in the meantime. God is always faithful, and His faithfulness allows us to take this same stance of longsuffering for the good of those in need. Speaking the truth in love over time in community is the pathway for spiritual growth for anyone, not just those with mental struggles.

This is a call to all of us, to be a church committed to compassion and hope. With God’s help, I think this can be true of us all.

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10 Comments on “Being a Friend to Those With Mental Struggles”

  1. Pingback: NUGGETS | Counseling One Another

  2. Mental illness spans a lot more than these obvious and dramatic examples. Hence why so often, one’s struggles are overlooked in either simplistic or overt conclusions. You may consider your examples to include more common experiences and how to come along side. As mentioned … not treating each person the same, unless again overt behaviours. The church drastically fails often, training their ‘disciples’ in the same approach. I do however, fully support your efforts in this article.

    1. Mental struggles run through a variety of life’s experiences, and I do realize that there are some that are more complicated to live with and others that are more easily managed. In the free online training we are doing on Saturday, we are going to be walking through helping with two of the most common mental struggles, depression and anxiety. My goal is to make sure that people understand that being a friend to those with mental struggles, can do them a great deal of good and this friendship pleases God as we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

  3. This was a needed truth I needed to be reminded of everyone around me struggles with this issue. Many of my family members please pray for me thanks

  4. I am forever grateful for the love of Jesus shown by the body of Christ , as friends walked along side of us and prayed as we cared for my Mom who loved Jesus and hymns and worship music and God’s word as she suffered from Dementia and bi polar. Mom went home to Heaven November 9, 2019. She was 90 years old. “No more tears, sorrow or pain”.( Revelation 21:4)

  5. I know several people who have mental health struggles – some who manage it well and some who don’t. This article gives additional tools (Scripturally) on how to be a better friend to them.

  6. Thank you, Tim. I agree that many individuals struggling with mental issues fearfully anticipate the common reactions that people tend to show towards them. And many people are afraid to befriend someone that is struggling, because they are not sure what to do or say! Such a broken world we live in, but ‘perfect (mature) love’ casts out fear, so let’s learn and mature in our relationships with each other, by coming along side and helping to mend those broken feet, so that those we care for, (and we, ourselves), can walk straight paths and not stumble! Heb. 12:12,13. Praying for this wonderful ministry! Irma Pressley

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