Note: This information comes from my own lived experience, notes from various seminars I’ve attended and “Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” by Matthew A. Stanford.
No matter how difficult the circumstances are, people who have mental illness may recover. In fact, between 60 percent and 80 percent of people with mental illness who get and stay in treatment show recovery.
Mental illness is a chronic condition, meaning we can manage symptoms but not cure the disease. So what does “recovery” mean?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life and strive to reach their full potential.
What does recovery look like?
For people with mental illness, it means going from Distress to Stability to Function to Purpose. For you, it means moving from Caregiver to Manager to Partner to Family.
The process is hardest on Americans because of our culture
Mainstream American culture values individuality and independence more than any other culture. This can cause U.S. caretakers to think caring for an adult is unusual, while it’s accepted as part of life in other cultures.
Recovery requires a holistic recovery effort that takes months or years, not days or weeks. Here are some of the issues that need to be addressed:
Sleeping well: Up to 80 percent of people with mental illness have chronic sleep problems as opposed to 10 to 18 percent of people without. The most common issues are insomnia and late insomnia. This is important because sleep deprivation can result in suicidal ideation, paranoia and agitation. To sleep well, encourage your loved one to try these tips:
- Have the same bedtime with same routine every night.
- Reduce caffeine.
- Talk to their doctor.
- Take effective medication.
- Learn relaxation techniques.
Doing exercise such as walking or gardening
Emotional and mental needs
Developing healthy thinking patterns: Your loved one’s therapist can work with them until they maintain healthy thinking patterns. Some things they need to learn are:
- How to suppress negative thinking
- How to accept a negative situation
- How to recognize cycles and triggers
- How to take a preventative approach when a relapse seems likely
Doing activities that heal the brain: Research suggests that active mental activities have a healing effect on the brain. Watching TV or movies are passive activities, which do not help. Active mental activities include:
- Painting and drawing
- Word games or puzzles
Living a structured life: Daily and weekly routines also reduce stress and bring a sense of safety.
Discovering hope in Jesus: We can help our loved ones understand what they mean to God. People with mental illness often feel that God doesn’t love them or that their faith isn’t strong enough. You may be able to help them to understand their identity in Christ. Even heroes of faith like David (Psalm 13), Job (Job 3), and Jeremiah (Lamentations 3) struggled with times of intense hopelessness. Encourage your loved one to share their feelings, requests and gratitude for what is good in prayer.
Finding purpose: Your loved one has a purpose in God’s plan that is just as important to God as everyone else’s. In fact, their heaviest cross … a mental health situation … can be an opportunity for God to manifest in their lives.
Growing spiritually: Focus on God’s love and your loved one’s identity in Christ rather than working on scriptures that focus on sin. Brief daily encouragements from the Bible are better than in-depth Bible study. Encourage them to check with you or others when they think they are hearing directions from God’s voice. Worship is good, but it should not be too stimulating or overwhelming.
Living in community: My church, Vineyard Columbus, has a One-Minded in Christ support group for people with mental health diagnoses. Check to see if you can find something like this in your community.
Stay connected to a few trusted and supportive people: Supportive friends and family are essential to recovery, but the friends and family also need the support of others. Some of the best ways you can help are:
- Learn to resolve conflict, to defuse your own tension.
- Learn to validate emotions.
- Learn to affirm their faith in Christ.
- Help them find opportunities to serve.
Recovery is possible. As we hope and pray, let’s take these steps to help our loved ones.