One of the consistent mistakes I've made throughout my life is assuming I know how to help others with mental illness because I myself struggle with a depression disorder.
In reality, living with a disease is really only part of the battle when it comes to understanding it. For me, I've found that deeper education and conversation with professionals and others who struggle has led me to a more holistic, appropriate comprehension.
Even after all this education, I often find myself at a loss for words when trying to offer support and encouragement...but a week after Suicide Prevention Week, I want to at least try:
I know it sucks that awareness for the diseases you're fighting only comes up during "special" weeks or months out of the year. It sucks that when we personally share our struggles with others it, almost by default, feels like we are burdening people, bringing just "another thing" into someone else's (probably already) stressful and complex life.
This is a lie: not because it is 100% false, but because it will lead to death.
There is a piece of Scripture that I think will be helpful in my invitation to discuss our deeper temptations and struggles. If you are reading this and would not identify as a Christian, I want you to know that I love and value you and that I intend for this example to be (hopefully) empowering to you, as well.
There's a story at the very beginning of the Bible, where God has made a very good, life-flourishing world, and has appointed these cool creatures called humans to partner with Him in continuing spread this state of life flourishing "very goodness" to the entire world.
God gives them this power as His partners, but He warns them to trust in His wisdom and definition of good and bad. By trusting in Him, the humans can help cultivate the same "very-goodness", because it's on God's terms, whereas if the humans choose to redefine good and evil to what they want, God warns them that by doing so they "will surely die" (Genesis 2:17, NIV).
But while humanity is alone together (represented by two characters that portray two biological "halves" of humanity), it becomes tempted by this slippery serpent, a character that does nothing but tempts and accuses in order for humanity to make the wrong choice. The serpent continues to talk to the woman, who makes the wrong choice of not trusting God, symbolized by defining fruit God told them not to eat as "good," before the man, "who was with her," also took and ate some (Genesis 3:6, NIV).
My point is this: what if the man and woman opened up to and consulted with each other because choosing whether to make the wrong choice, a choice that meant that they would "surely die"? I know, it's silly to play hypothetical with an ancient, Jewish oral narrative, but in reality, we live out this situation every day.
Every day, we face those same thoughts: thoughts of accusation and temptation.
It's the voice that tells us not to share our struggles, it's the voice that belittles us and makes us think that we are weak for fighting mental illnesses, it's the voice that tempts us with the dangerous idea of suicide.
As a follower of Jesus, I know that calling out, naming, and vocalizing struggle with this "voice" of temptation is a true step in the right direction, a direction that, instead of surely dying, offers me true life. A Jesus follower, often referred to as the Apostle Paul, wrote to a letter to a church, and in it, he pleaded with the community to "carry each other's burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2, NIV).
Inviting others into your area of temptation and hurt, to expose the voice that accuses you and belittles you, that is exactly what God defines as "good," and fulfills keeping in step with how He created us to live: sharing our struggles in a community.
If you feel that sharing your struggles with mental illness will be met with people laughing at you or seeing less of you: they are not living as humans are supposed to live, they are ignoring true good and evil, and are themselves buying into the temptations in their head to accuse and hurt others.
I beg of you not to listen to these people's words, or give their accusations and attitudes any weight. Instead, seek and open up to those willing to listen. It may take a few tries to find those people, but I promise you it is worth it.