Looking at a topic that is as vast as mental health, it is very easy to become overwhelmed. Looking at mental health statistics can be downright crushing. The rates of suicide in the U.S. and around the world are extreme. News stories highlighting the rare cases of mental health crisis that turn violent or extreme can leave the viewer with a fear that any attempt to become involved in a solution is just too dangerous to risk. So with a giant as large, complex and intimidating as mental health, what can we do? Here are a few ideas…
Don’t let fear dictate your actions. Fear can be crippling, and fear of the “what if’s” is usually the reasoning behind non-action. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I offend them? What if they are not thinking of hurting themselves and I put ideas in their head?
What if instead we consider that God is bigger than the problem? The Bible gives us several examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That is because the people in the Bible were not doing these things on their own. They intentionally let God work through them. In Exodus 33:15 Moses says to God, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” Moses understood where the source of life itself came from. He understood that being in the favor of God set them apart. If you are a follower of Christ then you are chosen! You are set apart! If you are intentional about wanting God to work through you for His glory He will do just that and when He does then the “what ifs” of fear become the “what ifs” of hope. What if, you say the right thing? What if, you encourage them? What if, you show someone that you care enough to have conversations that are hard?
Nobody is perfect. And there may be times when you make a mistake. But there is nothing that you can do or say that is going to surprise God. So say it, and let God do the work.
Love first! Sometimes knowing what the will of God is and knowing when God is asking you to reach out can be difficult to discern. When you find yourself in a situation that you are unsure of, ask yourself, “What is the most loving thing I can do at this moment?” 1 John 4:8 tells us “God is Love.” If we want to help someone the greatest thing we can ever do is to show them the love of God. Now God’s love manifests itself in many different ways so to give a cookie cutter example of what to do in xyz scenario would be trying to limit God’s love. So ask God to show you what to do. What is the most loving thing you can do at this moment? And then do it. If you are about to do something and have not asked yourself the question, “Is this a loving thing to do?” Then stop it! Start over with, “Is this the most loving thing I can do at the moment?”
Practice being intentional. Changing the world doesn’t usually happen by accident. You have to make a conscious effort to do the things that don’t come naturally. Just like any other thing we do, helping someone and making a difference is easier with practice. If you don’t know how to reach out to someone who is struggling start with the basics. Smile. Look them in the eye. Ask how they’re doing. Actually listen to the answer. Do this often. That way you will get really good at it.
Actually care. If someone or something is important to a person then the natural inclination is to learn about that other person or thing. When you are talking with someone would they think that you actually care about them? Seriously, how would most people you talk to during the day rate you at your level of caring? Did you smile? Make eye contact? Ask them a question about themselves? Ask how their day is going? Or do you move through your day focusing on you and your desires? It is ok to think about you and your desires but you shouldn’t do those things at the expense of others. Slow down enough to make someone’s day better.
You may have noticed something about this list. I could have titled this post “How not to be rude.” These tips are transferable to anyone, not just to those who are struggling with their mental health. There is a simple reason for that, someone who is struggling with their mental health is no different than the rest of the population. So this is where I sneak in the last tip…If you want to see a way to make a difference in the area of mental health. Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the person. For each of the statistics and each of the news stories that make us feel overwhelmed there is a person; a person who often feels isolated, alone, and unworthy. If you want to make a difference, then make a difference. One moment at a time, one person at a time.
Helping one person may not change the whole world, but it could change the whole world for one person. ~Unknown~
National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery