Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
“What are you thinking…? The question I’ve asked most often … if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer…: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you?”
The above quote comes from Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel, Gone Girl. For those who love someone who lives with a mental illness, these questions are asked every single day. It is an illness which strikes at the root of a person — how they think, who they are, and how they perceive the world around them. Worsening the scenario, mental illness carries with it a stigma rarely associated with other maladies. The idea remains in the collective consciousness of our society that those who suffer should be able to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘just get over it’ and be ‘normal;’ these are requests that are simply not possible.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people are diagnosed with a mental illness of some type. While it is often easy to place a statistical number on a diagnosis, it can be difficult to comprehend how difficult mental illnesses can be for the patients and for their families. Some people stigmatize those who are suffering from mental illnesses as being unsafe and unpredictable, and therefore unlovable and unapproachable. This can lead to a lonely and isolated life for both the patients and for their caregivers and families.
The Great Commandment calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Fortunately for all of us, Jesus did not selectively decide who was worthy of his love and compassion; in fact, during Jesus’ ministry, he was known for reaching out to the outcasts and meek that he encountered often to the chagrin of the religious authorities.
As a community of believers called to love one another, we have a unique opportunity to minister to the mentally ill and to their families in a way that medical personnel cannot. Mental illness is a chronic condition that won’t just go away on its own. Talk about mental illness; far too often it is tucked away in silence, hidden from the world and treated as something that is a shameful affliction. Get to know those who are in need of love and compassion. Foster friendships that are genuine and not limited to healthier periods in the lives of the mentally ill. Understand that the financial cost to treat mental illness can be a burden on a family because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment; it often takes trial and error before the perfect mix of medication and talk therapy is found. Finally, embrace the usage of small gestures like gentle smiles, random phone calls to let the family know you are thinking of them, an occasional meal to offset the burden of a difficult day, and silent prayers for strength for everyone. Simply knowing there are people who care can reaffirm for many that God truly loves all of us — even those most isolated and misunderstood.
When we open our hearts to follow the will of the Lord, we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us to be compassionate and to show grace to those most in need. This grace allows us to see with fresh eyes God’s never-ending love for us. We can more fully embrace the Christian perspective of what it means to be created in the image of God. . .so much so that when society says that someone who is different is imperfect, God — and we — say otherwise.
St. Francis de Sales Parish Catholic Church
40 Granville St.
Newark, Ohio 43055