My professional association, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, has as its theme for 2017 “Whole Health Begins with Mental Health . . . Let It Begin with You!” I like this theme because it lifts up the wholeness in which we are created: body, mind, and spirit. It also reminds me that spiritual and emotional health is the foundation for a person’s whole health. Unless we tend to our spiritual and emotional needs, it is not possible to live in a state of health. The body, mind, and spirit are inextricably bound together. The last part of the phrase, “Let it begin with you,” is a good place to start as we seek to serve as advocates for those who suffer with mental illness among us.
I would like to lift up three attitudes and actions that begin with oneself:
- Show agape love—first toward yourself so that it can then flow outward to others. By nourishing one’s own relationship with the Creator and opening oneself to the forgiveness and grace that Christ offers, we treat ourselves as the beloved beings God has created and redeemed. Until we accept that we are beloved, we cannot share that love with others. To be light-bringers to those who live in the darkness of mental suffering means being willing to walk alongside the other—even when it is uncomfortable. We are all in this together, seeking wholeness and healing!
Action: Notice someone around you whose face and body communicate that he or she is hurting. Offer your presence to listen and show the agape love of true caring without trying to solve the problem.
- Adopt the habit of honesty. Being honest with oneself leads to confession and opening self to forgiveness and grace, won for us through Christ’s sacrifice. Being honest about our own shortcomings allows us to be present with another who is suffering. We speak the truth in love while respecting the emotional defenses that have been put in place for self-protection. Honesty about one’s own suffering and journey toward wholeness invites others to experience safety to be honest with themselves as well. We are all in this together, seeking wholeness and healing!
Action: Notice when the awareness of another’s suffering makes you want to avoid that person or minimize his or her pain. Acknowledge out loud how that person’s pain touches your own, and lay it before God for healing through prayer or journaling.
- Observe clear boundaries in defining who we are as members of the Body of Christ. When every member of the Body of Christ is seen as a gift to the Church, then we value this work of the Holy Spirit. When each person works out of the passion that God has placed in them, then energy and excitement are produced for the Body of Christ. In addition to giving definition, boundaries can help us to observe limits—flowing from the deep awareness of our human limitations. When members maintain healthy boundaries, those who struggle can then learn how to live fully within boundaries. When people are suffering with an emotional disorder and have become self-focused in their pain, they can lose sensitivity to the needs of others. It is an act of love to be intentional in helping one another to think of the interests of others. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
Action: Choose one person among those you know, and tell that person how you see him or her as a gift to the Body of Christ. Choose another person with whom you need to observe limits, and state those limits in a firm yet loving way.
For further discussion on how these three attitudes and actions can provide hope in the midst of suffering, see Christian Concepts of Care: Understanding and Helping People with Mental Health Issues by David J. Ludwig and Mary R. Jacob.