Beautiful Between

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How To Bring A Casserole To The Psych Ward: And Other Ways To Serve Church Members Who Have Mental Illness

I’ve been so grateful to connect with my new friend, Katie Dale. She’s the brilliant writer behind Bipolar Brave and knows the heartache of dealing with severe mental health issues as a Christian. I’m so grateful to share Katie’s work with you today.
(PS – You can also check out my article on her site about how to break the ice on mental health in the church.)

It’s not a sin to be mentally ill. But it is a sin to not treat those who are mentally ill as we would want to be treated (Matthew 25: 31-46).

While locked up in the psych unit, the first thing I would have wanted was someone to visit me. When someone is suffering from severe mental illness, the last thing we would want anyone to believe is that we are beyond visitations, we are beyond care, we are beyond casseroles.

Amy Simpson, author of the book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and The Church’s Mission, coined the term “No-Casserole-Illness” because many who are met with physical ailments in life are helped and offered meals, but when someone who is sick in their brain is diagnosed with an invisible ailment that affects their behavior, they’re less likely to receive comfort from those around them. They’re seen as an impediment and a drama-filled attention-seeking crazy person.

How do we as the Church find compassion and minister to the needs of those who are seemingly melodramatic, or cowering out of anxiety in the back of the sanctuary? We treat them just as we would want to be treated as if we had any ailment.

  • Be a friend, a brother, a sister. If you don’t know them, get to know them. Already know them? Do life with them. Invite them over to your place or out to do something. Deepening our relationship with God doesn’t happen without ministering to those around us, especially those in God’s family.
  • Ask them how they’re doing. Engage. Be open to listening to understand. And not just to understand their “diagnosis” or what mental health condition they may have. Asking someone about their diagnosis or condition outright is going to probably make things awkward and disserve your efforts to help, however, taking interest in the person for just who they are, with no preconceived thoughts of what they are like, can speak volumes and move you from acquaintances to friends.
  • Be ready for anything and be open-minded. The more intense an episode of anxiety, mania, depression or psychosis, the harder it is to understand what’s going on inside their mind and typically the harder it is for them to communicate it. This means behaviors could be unexpected and if you’re prepared for anything, then you won’t be as surprised with what may come of their behaviors.
  • Give, and expect nothing in return. Be aware that the stronger the state of mania, psychosis, anxiety or depression, the longer the amount of time someone typically takes to interact with. Allow yourself time to spend with them showing them you care. Being present is also something that goes a long way. And you don’t necessarily have to say anything in particular, just being there with them can be a comfort.
  • Don’t disclose their information. Be confidential when they tell you about their struggles. It would be wrong to gossip about their challenges, so keep it between you and them. Of course, if they’re struggling with wanting to harm themselves or others, it is imperative you seek help and let them know you cannot keep that confidential, for their own safety and health.
  • Start a mental health support group in the church. Curriculum-guided groups like Fresh Hope For Mental Health will serve to educate, normalize and inspire more people who struggle with their mental health and come out of the shadows and feel like they have a safe place to share. As they say, there’s power in numbers.
  • Challenge yourself to read about and educate yourself on mental health conditions. There are many foundations and websites to learn more about mental illness. The church is definitely not immune to its effects. Check out BipolarBrave.com’s GAMEPLAN for a comprehensive guide to these resources and more.
  • Surround them and their family with sensitivity and support. There is no guide that comes with the person who deals with mental illness. In fact, most mood disorders appear in late teens and early twenties. Parents and siblings affected need a listening ear and helping hands too.
  • Make yourself a safe person. Don’t hinder someone’s ability to get help, but be sure to establish yourself as a trusted friend who cares enough to keep their issues private, unless they are intending on hurting themselves or others. In that case, lead them to a professional.
  • Direct their questions regarding their mental illness to professionals. There are many ways a mental health clinician can facilitate change and give help in ways their natural supports cannot. Talk therapists and prescribing psychiatrists are there for a reason and should be directed to when episodes escalate or are too heavy to handle.
  • Know your boundaries. Understand you have limitations too. Keep yours in check, especially if the person’s issues and moods drag you down into the pit or get your head spinning with mixed emotions.
  • Pray for them. Specifically, that they would be able to have insight into their condition, they would be able to find the right professional psychiatric care and find the right dosage of medications.
  • Have no shame in their struggles. Understand they are this way because of their brain chemistry at this time and that they are hurting. This understanding will validate them and help them see you aren’t judging them. Judgment has a dampening effect on recovery.
  • Take them a casserole, or at least take their family a meal when they’re in the hospital. There are going to be sleepless nights for them if they’re manic, and if they’re checked into a ward, their family may be blessed by you starting them a meal chain. Offer to help in other practical ways too, if that means filling in for their responsibilities in ministries they are a part of, or coordinating with the family for immediate needs.
  • If they’re in the hospital, find out if you can visit them and do so. Any hospitalization in a secured unit can be a harrowing experience for the patient, and having a familiar face or church family member visit them would most likely be a welcome blessing. Bring them a Get Well Soon card, signed by their friends, while you’re at it.

Katie Dale is a former bipolar patient who advocates for those who are misunderstood and struggling with mental health conditions. She loves long runs, long naps, and is the messiest eater she knows (although I might give her a run for her money). You can read her blog at BipolarBrave.com and follow her on social media @KatieRDale.

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About Sarah

Hi, I'm Sarah. I love coffee, pancakes and street tacos. I'm a learner, a traveler and a creative mess. I've got a thing for redemption and seeing broken people living beautiful lives. That's the story I've lived, and the one I want for you. Let's be friends!

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