How Others Can Help
PERHAPS you know someone who suffers from depression or bipolar disorder. If so, how can you be supportive? D. J. Jaffe of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill offers this sound advice: “Don’t confuse the illness with the individual; instead, hate the disease but love the person.”
A woman named Susanna had the patience and love to do just that. She had a friend who was a bipolar patient. “There were times when she just couldn’t bear to be around me,” Susanna says. Instead of giving up on her friend, Susanna did research to learn about bipolar disorder. “Now,” she says, “I realize how much my friend’s demeanor was affected by her illness.” Susanna feels that making efforts to understand the sufferer can bring a wonderful reward. “It can help you grow to love and treasure the beautiful person behind the illness,” she says.
When the ailing one is a family member, wholehearted support is crucial. Mario, mentioned previously in this series, learned this lesson early on. His wife, Lucia, also mentioned earlier, is a bipolar patient. “Initially,” Mario says, “I was helped by going with my wife to her doctor and by studying up on this strange malady so that I would be thoroughly familiar with what we were up against. Lucia and I also talked a lot with each other and kept working with whatever situation developed as time went on.”
Support From the Christian Congregation
The Bible admonishes all Christians to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls” and to “be long-suffering toward all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) How can you do this? First, it is important to understand the distinction between mental and spiritual illness. For example, the Bible writer James indicated that prayer can make the spiritually indisposed one well. (James 5:14, 15) Nevertheless, Jesus acknowledged that those who are physically ailing need a physician. (Matthew 9:12) Of course, it is always right and helpful to pray to Jehovah about any concern, including our health. (Psalm 55:22; Philippians 4:6, 7) But the Bible does not state that increased spiritual activity in itself will cure present medical problems.
Discerning Christians, therefore, avoid implying that depressed people are responsible for their own suffering. Such remarks would be no more helpful than those offered by Job’s false comforters. (Job 8:1-6) The fact is that in many cases depression will not improve unless it is treated medically. This is especially so when a person is severely depressed, perhaps even suicidal. In such cases, professional attention is essential.
Still, there is much that fellow Christians can do to be supportive. Of course, patience is required. For example, certain aspects of Christian activity may be especially daunting to those with a mood disorder. A bipolar sufferer named Diane says: “I am finding it a struggle to take part in the ministry. It is challenging to bring the good and happy news from the Bible to others when I don’t feel good and happy inside.”
To be of assistance to sufferers, strive to be empathetic. (1 Corinthians 10:24; Philippians 2:4) Try to view matters through the eyes of the sufferer rather than through your own. Do not burden the individual with unreasonable expectations. “When I am accepted for the person I am now,” says Carl, who struggles with depression, “I feel that my sense of belonging is gradually being restored. With the patient help of a few older friends, I have been able to build a closer relationship with God and have found a great measure of joy in helping others to do the same.”
With support, those who are ailing can find great relief from their distress. Consider a Christian woman named Brenda, who is also a bipolar patient. “My friends from the congregation have been wonderfully supportive and understanding during my low periods, never judging me as spiritually weak,” she says. “There have been times when they have let me accompany them in the ministry and let me just listen or when they have saved a seat for me at the Kingdom Hall so that I could come in after everyone is seated.”
The assistance of loving and empathetic congregation elders has been a great aid to Cherie, mentioned in the preceding article, who suffers from depression. She says: “When the elders reassure me of Jehovah’s love, read me passages from God’s Word, the Bible, and speak of Jehovah’s purpose for a paradise of peace and well-being and when they pray with me—even on the telephone—I feel the burden lifting. I know I am not abandoned by Jehovah or by my brothers, and that is a source of strength for me.”
There is no doubt that by providing meaningful support, family members and friends can play a significant role in a sufferer’s well-being. “I think I have a pretty good handle on my life now,” says Lucia. “My husband and I have worked hard to get through this together, and things are better than ever for us.”
Many who now struggle with various types of mental illness realize that the battle with these dreadful afflictions is a long-term one. Yet, the Bible promises that in God’s new world, “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24) Gone will be the distressing ailments and maladies that plague so many today. It is indeed heartwarming to contemplate God’s promise of a new world in which all illnesses—including mood disorders—will be gone forever. At that time, says the Bible, no longer will there be mourning or outcry or pain.—Revelation 21:4.
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Jesus acknowledged that those who are ailing need a physician.—MATTHEW 9:12
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The Bible promises that in God’s new world, “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’”—ISAIAH 33:24