Through personal experience and hearing shared experiences of other people, I have concluded that in most cases of any mental illness, people, and more specifically Christians, don’t know what to say. This comes down to a lot of stigma surrounding overall mental health, in the Church and out, but I’ll save that for another post. I’ll just say that what you do or don’t say to someone can really change their life; the Bible isn’t kidding when it says that the power of death and life are in the tongue.
Below I have compiled a few lists of things that you should and shouldn’t say to someone who has just shared with you their struggle.
Things You Shouldn’t Say
Below are questions that I’ve been asked, or have heard other people asked, after having shared the struggle with mental illness. No matter how well-intentioned they may be, they hurt more than they heal:
- Have you been praying?
- Do you take time to worship God during your week?
- Have you been reading your Bible?
- Have you focused on things you are thankful for?
- Are you being attacked by the enemy?
While some people have asked these things with the best intentions, they don’t always make the person you’re asking feel heard, understood, or seen. Some of these questions come from a place of not understanding that having a mental illness is as serious as having any other illness. Coming from a humble place of realizing you don’t know much about their mental illness can actually be a good place to start.
Here are a few things you should avoid saying:
- You should pray more.
- Jesus can heal you.
- You are under spiritual attack from the devil.
- Maybe you should memorize some Scripture verses.
- Your faith is being strengthened through this trial.
A good way to test if what you’re saying to someone is okay or not is by asking yourself, “Would I tell them/ask them this if they came to me with a broken bone?” Chances are that if you wouldn’t then you probably shouldn’t say it. Mental illness should be treated just as seriously (if not more!) as a broken bone.
If you’ve said or asked any of the things above, don’t beat yourself up about it, just try to do better moving forward.
Things You Should Say
If someone has just told you that they are struggling with mental illness you can ask:
- Would you like to talk about it?
- Have you established yourself as a patient with a Mental Healthcare Professional?
- Is there anything that I can do to help you?
- How long have you been struggling?
- Do you want me to check in on you?
The truth is that listening is one of the best things you can do, and asking questions is a great way to be an active listener and may help you to do so better.
Some things you can say:
- If you need someone to talk to, I’m here.
- I don’t know exactly what that is like for you, but I’d love to try and understand.
- I’m sorry that you are struggling.
- Don’t forget that you’re loved.
- Asking for help is always okay.
Being a loving person in their life will do more than you can imagine, but never hesitate to encourage them to get professional help.
What experiences have you had with hearing the right or wrong things?