How Do We Embrace Those with Mental Illness?

[ 15 ] Comments

by jendoop

We’re learning so much about mental illness, let’s see if we can apply it to our daily lives. Some of the symptoms of mental illness make it difficult for people to function, even in seemingly simple settings. We’ve learned that a person with Asperger’s has a difficult time functioning in social groups, so what does that mean if they are asked to teach Elder’s Quorum? Or are sitting at the conference table with you at work?

We’ve learned that dementia can creep up on a person slowly, and that people can try and hide their deficiencies or deny that their memory is failing. What if you’re in a presidency with someone whose memory is beginning to fail?

We’ve heard from several people that home and visiting teachers are a welcome support for those who suffer from mental illness. So what would you do if you were assigned to visit someone with a mental illness? How do you find out the necessary information to help them, while not offending or being insensitive?

In short, how do we more fully embrace and involve our brothers and sisters who have mental illnesses?


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About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

15 Responses to How Do We Embrace Those with Mental Illness?

  1. readermom says:

    I think being generous in our judgements is very important. It is easy to see the different actions of others as being wrong. If we can work to just see them as different, not bad or wrong, they will sense this from us. I work on this with my own children and with people in general. Our society is so critical of those who don’t do things the “right way.” It is easy to fall into this unconsciously. A person who wears raggedy clothes to church, or has a messy house or yard, or uncombed hair. These are all frowned on, yet they can also be opportunities for service. Or maybe the person just likes it that way.
    We all have our differences, those with a mental illness have medically necessary ones that are less obvious than a wheelchair. We should give everyone we meet the benefit of the doubt, not thinking less of those who don’t do things the way I do.
    Sorry to sound preachy, but it is something I work on and really try to emphasize with my children. They are not good socially and tend to assume malice where there is none. We talk about not judging and motives all the time.

  2. becky rose says:

    Honestly, while I may be a good choice to be a VT to some0one who had a mental illness, because of my work with those with mental/social issues, I wouldn’t want to do it. I need VT to be joyful. I’m cynical and burned out.

    • Bonnie says:

      Limitations are an important thing to acknowledge. We can choose not to be someone else’s burden by trying because we’re supposed to and instead becoming a mess ourselves. Firefighters know that the most important life in the fire is their own, because otherwise they become another victim that someone else needs to save. That’s been a very hard thing (as someone who has worked to overcome codependency) for me to acknowledge. I don’t have to save the world. I do what I can, push myself a bit further than I think I can, and let God manage his own world when I’m overwhelmed. Being your joyful self is your way to serve too. None of us can do just one part all the time.

      • Becky L. Rose says:

        Oh my gosh, thank you for saying that! After I posted that I was thinking I shouldn’t have and realizing that if asked I would visit them and help how I could. This message though is so helpful! Thank you again!

  3. Paul says:

    Allowing the person who suffers to guide the relationship helps. When we mourn with those that mourn or comfort those who stand in need of comfort, we listen. We emphathize. we partner. We agree where we can. We do all we can to send a signal that we are “with you” and that “you are not alone.” That reassurance is priceless to the sufferer.

    We often want to fix things so they are normal. Often that is not required. (Few of us are normal anyway, whatever that means.) Only in extreme cases is intervention required, in the case of someone’s being a danger to himself or others.

    We sometimes also think we need to bear the burden alone. But if we share burdens — mourn with those that mourn and allow others to mourn with us when we mourn — our burdens can be lighter. We can recognize our own limitations and do what we can do, and then let others do what they can do.

  4. MSKeller says:

    I find it best to focus on what they can do well, rather than their limitations. (Keeping those in mind of course). It is definitely difficult when you suspect something is ‘not quite right’, but there is no official diagnosis or information other than your experience and intuition. I have found that in my own life it is easier to forgive folks of their mis-steps when you consider that they might just be struggling with something bigger than themselves.

  5. Mie says:

    I do know what a VT of a mother of children with mental problems can do : understanding , understanding that the children are a little different even though they don’t look like it in public , that we try to stick to routines , that educational problems are involved ,that I don’t have time nor energy for frivolities ,that I have tried everything , that sugary goods aren’t needed , that they do need those pills , that we avoid certain electronics ,that a room may be messy or furniture or walls damaged ,that they want something so badly that they believe it was promised them etc. Above all we need non-judgemental love and maybe a listening ear.
    Each of us is unique ,we have unique experiences and personalities. some outgoing ,others withdrawn , some private ,some serious,some always joking ,some with a diagnoses that is in the books , others unwritten . Love and understanding get us a long way but we can’t expect others to fully understand us.
    As I visited a hospitalized ,cancer stricken Sr this morning after she had hip surgery ,I expected her to maybe not recognize me ; instead she smiled and talked and wanted her hug . She has had a hard life but smiles through it all and lifts others .
    This was a real treat after spending 3 hours trying to clear up misunderstandings at the lab and with 2 children in tow and others needing me at home .

  6. MSKeller says:

    You know, when I wrote that I thought, “I really don’t know of anyone with those sorts of difficulties” but then I started to think about it, and I have known quite a few. Perhaps it is just that I don’t look at them in the same way? I’m not sure. I had a wonderful visiting teaching companion whose daughter had all sorts of difficulties. Sometimes we took her with us, other times not. I guess I just treated her on her level, with what she could do and what was not possible, perhaps like I wouldn’t expect certain behavior from a 10 year old that I would of a five year old? I know that my companion worried a bit about her house, and the mess that her daughter needed that day, but honestly I never noticed. Perhaps those who live with these difficulties will take heart to know that many of us don’t judge, don’t ask too much and are happy to just love you and your loved one.

  7. Becky L. Rose says:

    Seriously, we need a like button!

  8. jendoop says:

    So many good perspectives and comments. The only thing I’d like to add is that we should practice tact and sensitivity. I’ve had many people share their struggles with me, from childhood sexual abuse, to thoughts of suicide, drug addiction, etc. The thing that I have found that helps them the most when they initially share their pain, even if it is something that shocks me, is to reach out to them in love instead of recoiling in horror. Most recently a friend shared her scars with me, marks on the inside of her arm where many years before she cut herself, not in a suicide attempt, but in an effort to express the pain she felt inside. I reached across to hold her hand which was stroking the scars, it was a connection that brought her back to now, pulling her away from those painful memories.

    When someone is brave enough to open the darkest corners of their heart to you it is a great responsibility. We don’t seek to hear these things so we can gossip, judge, or tell them what to do. We seek to be like the Savior, who when people shared their trials with him he always reached out in love. There are plenty of people who will condemn, ridicule, criticize or chastise those with great trials. Few are the truest hearts who are willing to walk with them as they heal. It is not a one time commitment, but for the greatest help must be an enduring relationship, a healthy one with boundaries, while still true and loving.

  9. Ali says:

    I currently visit teach a sister who has a mental illness. She has told me that she has one but hasn’t shared what it is (my best guess is bipolar). I truly do love her. I am struggling however. She is often offended by what I say and lashes out at me. She is manipulative and very difficult to be around. Does anyone have any suggestions? As I said I truly love her but I’m getting burned out and don’t know what else to do.

    • Cheryl says:

      Pray for her. If you see she needs help in a certain way, offer to help or just do it. I know that sounds simplistic and maybe assumptive, but that is what has helped me the most.

      One time, I was having a particularly difficult day. A friend read something into a comment I made online and stopped by with a flower from her tree. It changed EVERYTHING for me that day.

      Depression, for me, has always been a struggle, and those who help the most are those who simply pray to know what to do and then do it. Show up with dinner. Stop by with a small gift or letter. Call just to chat or see how I’m doing. A quick text to tell me I’m loved. Taking my kids so I can go to the Temple without me having to ask them to do it. Calling before going grocery shopping to see what I need from the store.

      The irony is that these are things we probably ALL should be doing for ALL we have a stewardship over, but for me (the mental illness lady!), it’s especially meaningful.

      I hope that helps! She may have certain struggles and what I’m suggesting might not work for her particular situation, but that’s why I said to start with prayer. 😉

    • jendoop says:

      Ali, Your description of your friend reminded me of the comments by Melissa after her post about Borderline Personality Disorder.

      She said that as part of that disorder she has a very difficult time trusting others. She pulls them in close because she wants relationships, but at some point she does something to push them away, instinctually afraid of closeness and intimacy. That could be what is happening with your friend. She could be lost in those feelings, powerless to stop the cycle.

      This leaves you in a tricky position. While we want to love others and sacrifice a bit of our selfish natures to serve them, there are appropriate boundaries which will keep your own well being intact. You have to decide where those lines are. You don’t have to continue to submit to her hurtful words and actions, but you can still do things to show her you care. Taking a step back from these intense situations enables us to serve in the long term, instead of getting burned out quickly. And really I would guess that your long term commitment to her would mean a great deal, even if that commitment is through letters, surprises left on her doorstep, and infrequent visits.

      On the other hand sometimes we do have to walk away. I recently had interactions with a sister in my ward who is not mentally healthy. After realizing where she is in her battle, and where I am in my battle, I decided that associating with her is not in the best interests of either of us. There are other people who are better able to serve her than I am, and it’s okay to admit that to save myself. It is wise and being a good steward over the life God has blessed me with.

      All too often the answers to these hard questions are somewhere in the middle, and changing day by day. Which is why guidance from Heavenly Father, who knows your friend best, is essential. Good luck Ali, she is truly blessed to have such a loving visiting teacher.

      • Ali says:

        Thank you for this. It helped me so much! I do need to step away a bit because I have been very involved. Just last night I took her dinner and she opened the door, looked at it and said, “So what we aren’t good enough to get dessert too?” I teared up, just handed her the dinner and left because I didn’t want to say anything I would regret. Today she stopped by my house unexpectedly and wanted to hang out and I had to tell her it didn’t work today, I know it hurt her feelings, but I have so much going on right now and am trying to get my house ready to sell. Plus emotionally I need to step back for a bit.

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