How Not to Comfort Someone in Crisis

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Early in my recovery, I called a young lady I knew in my church who suffered a serious clinical depression for advice on how to deal with my diagnosis.  She described some harrowing experiences, including such a deeply depressed mood that her husband considered committing her to the state mental hospital.  She talked about lying in the floor curled into the fetal position on the bedroom rug listening to her children crying for her and being unable to take care of them.

At that point, I believe I was taking an eight-drug cocktail to try to bring me out of my depression. So I asked her about her medication. She said she did not take any. She quoted the scripture that Israel, instead of relying on God to win a military battle for them, made an alliance with Egypt instead for help.  God told them that since they put more faith in the “horses and chariots of Egypt” than in him, that they were going to lose the battle.  And they did.

She likened taking medication to not having faith in God to heal you. She said that she simply “prayed without ceasing” and she believed that her show of faith in doing that led to her coming out of the depression.

She started talking to me about the Book of Job—the man who walked after God but was  tried by Satan with God’s express permission.  I told her, “I don’t want to hear about Job—it makes me suicidal to think about losing all of my children.”

She said, “But I love Job!”  And she kept talking—about how God ministered to Job after allowing Satan to crush him.  She said that this depression might be because of sin in my life—or it might not.  I might not ever know why I was undergoing such a trial.

I was crushed.  I felt put down and degraded where I had been looking for encouragement.  I could see the analogy she was making, but I felt that it was a misapplication of Scripture to liken mental illness to God’s relationship with Israel.  I felt it was cruel to talk to a suicidal person about the possibility that God had allowed these circumstances to come into her life.

I wondered if she would tell a Type I diabetic to stop taking insulin.  Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is necessary for life.  The Type I diabetic does not produce any insulin and so has to take it in shots or pumps or risk death.  If bipolar disorder is a shortage of chemicals in the brain, and medication can stimulate their production, who in their right mind wouldn’t take the medication?  But suspicion of psychotropic medications is deeply ingrained in some people’s belief systems.

I never called that young lady again. I have spoken to her socially when we would meet in the grocery store, but I felt I could not trust her to give me comfort when I was searching for it.  We need to be careful that when we minister to the mentally ill; we need to meet them where they are and not try to cause more pain.

JulieJulie Whitehead currently writes and blogs from Mississippi at her personal blog.   She has been a university lecturer, a disability examiner, and a freelance writer.  She carries a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and blogs to create awareness and help others understand the disease and its effects.

You can follow Julie on Facebook, Twitter or her personal blog.

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