It's pretty apparent when someone breaks a leg, like Kevin Ware of the Louisville Cardinals did during the Elite Eight NCAA basketball game last week. Legs aren't supposed to bend like that. When someone is struggling with mental illness, though, the signs aren't as clear. And while Ware will receive no shame for breaking his leg, chances are that a person with Schizophrenia will. No one will tell Ware to heal faster, yet many will ask those dealing with depression why they aren't feeling better yet, telling them simply to cheer up.
But our shaming and prodding will do no good for the person with mental illness. And that goes for those who are seeking to help people with mental illness, too. When your son with depression commits suicide or your mom with bipolar disorder causes a scene at the grocery store, you don't need any shaming or prodding either. You and your loved one need grace and love and reminders of God's light.
Ann Voskamp shares on her blog how she's seen the church deal with mental illness, including her mom's—and how she wishes the church would respond. She writes:
Our Bible says Jesus said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick." Jesus came for the sick, not for the smug. Jesus came as a doctor and He makes miracles happen through medicine and when the church isn't for the suffering, then the Church isn't for Christ.
I wanted them to say it all together, like one Body, for us to say it all together to each other because there's not one of us who hasn't lost something, who doesn't fear something, who doesn't ache with something. I wanted us to turn to the hurting, to each other, and promise it till we're hoarse:
We won't give you some cliché—but something to cling to—and that will mean our hands.
We won't give you some platitudes—but someplace for your pain—and that will mean our time.
We won't give you some excuses—but we'll be some example—and that will mean bending down and washing your wounds. Wounds that we don't understand, wounds that keep festering, that don't heal, that downright stink—wounds that can never make us turn away.
Because we are the Body of the Wounded Healer and we are the people who believe the impossible—that wounds can be openings to the beauty in us.
Recognizing that different mental illnesses need different treatments, including resources outside small-group ministry, your small group can help those with a mental illness by representing our Wounded Healer to them. Too often we want to send away people dealing with mental illness, allowing specialists to do their work, but as the Body of Christ, we should come alongside those struggling.
What can small groups do to create environments where those struggling with mental illness—and those with loved ones struggling with mental illness—are welcomed and cared for? For a specific example, how might a small group reach out to parents who have recently lost a child to suicide?
For an excellent study on this topic, see Ministering to Those with a Mental Illness.