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I know I’m on a list, probably not at the top, but definitely on the list. I used to make these lists back when it was visiting teaching. But, now I know I’m on the Relief Society’s list of women to reach out to. It’s hard, mental illness has taken over so much of my life that I can’t do half of the things I use to.
I don’t mind being on the list, I just don’t want to feel like I’m just a project. I want to feel like I’m cared about and that I can truly reach out to those ministering to me. I’ve had amazing home teachers and visiting teachers in the past but, then some that were really not that helpful.
It’s hard to know how to minister to those that have an illness affecting them, especially mental illness. I wish I could say here is a step by step guide, but everyone’s mental illness is different, and they need different things. But, here are some simple ideas on how to better minister to those struggling with a mental illness.
1. Taking meals over
I know this is visiting teaching 101, but I still find it super helpful. It takes a load off my shoulders when I don’t have to stress about what’s for dinner. I know I tend to think of bringing dinners as something for when someone has a baby or surgery, but those with mental illness could probably use it more often than that. So, if you see them struggling a bit more, just offer. It could be a huge help.
As someone who struggles with an eating disorder, I’ve been asked before if food and treats are a good idea. It’s hard to answer because everyone is in a different place in their disorder or recovery. I personally love getting treats and goodies, and it’s part of my recovery to incorporate them into my life. If you know the person you minister to struggles with an eating disorder, I would just ask them if they would care for some goodies on your next visit or not.
2. Babysitting for them
If they have children, offer to babysit. They could probably use some free time for a date, self-care or even a nap.
3. Helping them clean
I’m not just saying this because I want someone to clean my house for me, but I wouldn’t say no if they did…
No, it’s because, when my depression starts to get bad I have a hard time showing or even eating. My house falls apart so fast and just causes me more anxiety. I’ve greatly appreciated those that when they come to visit will chat with me while doing dishes. They wash, while I dry and put away. At first, I thought it was weird, but it was such a relief to have a large chore done from my to do list when they left.
It’s just the little things that you could do to help out that make the difference. Maybe offer to take out the garbage on your way out or help fold laundry while you are there. Plus, doing chose is much more fun when you have someone to do them with!
4. Picking up things at the grocery
I hate going to the store. My social anxiety and eating disorder makes it difficult to make the trip to pick up groceries. I know it would help me out if when you’re out and about texting me saying, “I’m at Walmart, is there anything I can grab for you while I’m here?”
Or, let them know that you are going to Costco in the afternoon and ask if they would like to join you. I know I would rather go shopping with someone than by myself.
5. Spend time with them
In my mental illness, I usually want to be left alone, but also can’t handle being all alone. People casually reaching out to spend time with me has been huge. We had an amazing home teacher who would invite my husband and I to go with him and his wife to the movies, out to eat, game nights, or even just ice cream. This helped us get better aquatinted and it was something casual and fun.
You could also always invite them and their kids over to play with your kids. Or, even just schedule a time to get together and watch some Netflix, because you can never go wrong watching The Great British Baking Show!
The key is to just keep it casual. A lot of times people struggling with mental illness are also struggling spiritually. With my mental illnesses, it’s a battle to shower and eat every day let alone read my scriptures and go to church. So, make sure they feel accepted wherever they are at spiritually.
6. Recommending professional help
Just like with any physical illness, it’s important that they are getting professional help. They may need help finding resources in the area and let them know that they can always go to the bishop. There are also a lot of free resources and apps that they could us if they can’t afford therapy at this time.
7. Be a safe person for them
It’s easy to judge someone struggling with mental illness, so just make sure you’re not. They need to feel like you are a safe person to be around. You should also learn as much as you can about their illness, because this will help you better understand them.
8. Keeping them in your prayers
I feel like keeping the people you minister in your prayers is a no brainier, but I forget about it majority of the time I say my prayers. Then, you could always mention to them that you have kept them in your prayers or put their name in the temple. This can bring relief to some people who are really struggling.
9. Sending texts
I love that we live in the age of texting, because it makes it so easy to reach out and check on someone. Lots of times it is just nice to know that someone is thinking about you and cares.
When I’m in the depths of my depression, I hate everything about myself. It’s easy to also convince myself that everybody hates me. It’s a very dark and lonely place to be. An occasional text saying something like, “Hey, I’m just thinking about you and want you to know how much you are loved. How is your day going?” would help.
10. Get to really know them
I’ve had some ministering sisters that only visited me once a month, taught a lesson, and then left with, “Let us know if you need anything.” Even though they were great women, I never felt close to them or even felt like they really cared about me. I certainly wasn’t going to reach out in times of need as well as open up about my mental health struggles.
Then, I’ve had amazing ministering sisters that really took the time to get to know me. One of them gave me some Disney socks for my birthday, and it made me cry. It was such a simple gift, but she knew I love Disney and got me something that I would really like.
The sisters that truly got to know me were the ones I felt more comfortable asking for help from and opening up about my illnesses.
11. Truly listening
More than anything, someone struggling needs to know that they are heard. Take an active role in listening. Feel free to ask more vulnerable questions, such as, “How is therapy going?”, “What does it feel like to have depression?”, “How is your anxiety doing this week?”
As you listen to them, make sure to empathize with what they are saying instead of sympathizing. Sympathizing is trying to create a silver lining in their struggles, “At least your insomnia isn’t acting up this week”, “At least you have a supportive spouse.” This just makes the person feel disconnected from you.
Empathy on the other hand is being willing to feel the person’s emotions and sit with them in those emotions. It’s hard because it is vulnerable for you to feel these difficult emotions.
An example of empathy would be them saying that they hate themselves so much and you respond with, “I know the small moments I have where I struggle with myself are deep and painful places to be. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to deal with that all the time.” Or, “Wow, I don’t know what to say, but I’m so grateful you shared that with me.”
Brene Brown has an amazing video about empathy vs sympathy:
The most important thing to remember is that it’s not your job to fix their problem, it’s not even their therapist job to fix it. All they need from you is someone to listen and love them as they struggle with their mental illness.
12. Take care of yourself
It’s important that you take care of yourself. If you exhausted and overwhelmed, you can’t truly help them. Remember it’s okay to say no if you can’t help them out. We would rather you say no then become a burned to you.
13. Ask what you can do to help
In the end, if you don’t know how to help, just ask. Don’t say, “let me know if you need anything,” because it’s unlikely that they will. Instead list some ways that you could help and ask them which ones would be most beneficial.
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