My friend’s son is in prison. He struggles with mental illness. Recently, attempting to cut himself, he cut an artery. This past week he attempted to hang himself. I can’t wrap my brain around what either of these individuals might be going through. What makes someone so desperate that suicide becomes the option of choice? What goes through a mother’s head as she is notified of yet one more attempt by this young man to give up? How desperate and alone they both must feel!
May is Mental Health Awareness month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that statistics show one in every four families is affected by mental illness. Among many possibilities, mental illness includes obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar activity, social anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even depression. With that list alone, many of us probably know someone who has been affected by one of these illnesses.
The demons of depression are familiar to many. Left untreated, depression can wreak much havoc in more than one life. Depression alone can drive a person to acts of despair and loneliness.
The stigma of mental illness is akin to age-old reactions to leprosy. I’m certain that emotions brought about by all of these conditions (and more) are echoed in Psalm 31:11-12: “To every one of my oppressors I am contemptible; loathsome to my neighbors, to my friends, a thing of fear. Those who see me in the street hurry past me; I am forgotten, as good as dead in their hearts, something discarded.”
God loves those of us who are imperfect. Don’t forget that Jesus was a friend to the poor, the possessed, adulterers, the lonely, the imprisoned, and more. If mental illness is too difficult an issue to wrap your head around, consider the depths to which addictions lead. Depression hurts. Loneliness and fear can make us desperate as well.
We must remember, though, that, while it may be painful to experience the present, pain can be tempered by a new conviction to live. If you never experienced the pain you are in, recognize it for what it is and for its power. BUT, think of what your new knowledge tells you. Your understanding of where YOU are at could just become the link for you with another person who needs your understanding in the midst of their desperation. Good can come from your pain. The God I know is a God who plants seeds for hope and meaning in this world. My God nourishes us in life. He gives us the ability to grow, and the chance to use what we learn. My prayer is that those who are in pain find treatment and a way to move forward. May they find healing, not only for themselves, but for someone else along the way. And, may those who are not in pain, be sensitive to those who are.