Based on true events.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees.
Part 1: A Tale of Two Carers
The phone rang, yet again. Zoe* froze for a moment, overwhelmed by the now-familiar dread that came with every call from her sister, Jess*.
Being a carer for Jess, who lives with an anxiety disorder, was like living on a rollercoaster. With every phone call, she knew she might hear Jess cry or scream, or ask her impossible questions, like “Why me? Why must I live with this?”
Call, cry, questions. For many months, Zoe lived with intense fear and frustration over these repeated patterns. Jess was caught in the middle of a swirling storm of emotions, and Zoe had no clue how to help her out.
Yet, knowing that just by answering any of these calls, she could be saving her sister’s life, was reason enough to always pick up the phone, no matter how nerve-racking it was.
Joshua* and his best friend, Alex*, had just gotten into another argument. Alex, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, leaned on Joshua as a confidante, pillar of strength . . . and an occasional emotional punching bag. In Alex’s struggle to find equilibrium amidst his mood swings, he would hurl hurtful words, sometimes accusing Joshua of “not really caring”.
His words were becoming too much for Joshua to handle. Though Joshua was desperate to help, Alex’s words cut deeply. He felt like he had no solution to his friend’s raging pain and uncontrollable moods.
He knew he had reached his breaking point the day he ignored Alex’s threat of suicide—too broken and exhausted to pay attention. While trying to “save” his friend, Joshua found himself drowning in his storm.
Their Turning Points
It was a moment of crisis which sparked the turning point for Zoe and Jess. One night, Jess called up, saying she felt like life wasn’t worth living anymore. That’s when Zoe suddenly felt compelled to share her own secret pain with her sister: she had been struggling to conceive a baby for many months.
In that moment, Jess was able to break out of her repeated cycle of destructive thinking, as she began turning her attention from herself to her sister. In an unexpected twist of events, God’s timing came through for them. As Zoe opened up to her sister, it gave Jess a new reason to live. She was no longer merely a victim of her circumstances but now able to reach through her own pain and help someone else. This fresh purpose unlocked a big step in her recovery.
In Joshua’s case, he was becoming overwhelmed with guilt about his struggles. “I’m a bad friend and a bad person,” his mind whispered often.
His turning point came when another friend in church, who also knew about Alex’s struggles, pulled Joshua aside and said, “I notice that you seem a little down and tired.”
Those simple words were a release for Joshua. Finally, someone acknowledged his emotions, encouraged him, and reminded him to take care of himself. Having his own needs met was the key that helped him become more effective in caring for Alex.
Part 2: Five Truths for Carer
If you’re a carer for someone who lives with mental illness, you may be intimately familiar with the frustrations, fears, griefs, joys, and blessings that come with the role.
Like Joshua and Zoe, every carer’s journey involves different circumstances, needs, and outcomes.
But while our experiences may take different forms, here are five truths all carers can bear in our hearts as we continue in this journey of faith:
1. Your presence is enough
Because you care for your loved one, it’s normal to want to help them when they’re in distress, or to feel hurt if you can’t provide answers to their struggles. But know that it’s enough for you to be there for them.
Seeking to understand them rather than giving solutions or opinions can be very validating for someone who lives with mental illness. You are someone with whom they can express their deepest hurts, someone who can provide a safe space for their pain, questions, and failures. Zoe, who didn’t have any answers, still committed to always picking up the phone whenever Jess called—and that act of love was enough.
What matters is that we keep showing up and making ourselves available whenever we can.
Job’s friends may not have gotten a lot right, but when they sat with him in quietness and grief, that was when he felt most supported (Job 2:11-13).
2. Your emotions are valid
It’s only natural to feel heartbroken when you see a loved one struggle. This feeling can compound with complex emotions like frustration, disappointment, and exhaustion as you face the daily realities of their struggles. There’s no need to add guilt and shame to this. Remember that your emotions are just as valid as your loved one’s.
Just like Joshua realised, feeling tired or angry doesn’t mean that you hate your loved one who’s struggling, it might simply mean you need to take a break.
When you’re overwhelmed by your emotions, you can bring them honestly before God knowing that He loves you fiercely through it all. Going to Him in prayer gives us the comfort to stay firm in His love. Hearing His voice through Scripture gives us the wisdom we need to navigate the storms of life.
God is close to those who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:18). When you are honest with God about your feelings, He draws even closer to comfort you.
3. Your needs matter just as much
Being a carer is hard work—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Remember to surround yourself with a trusted community that can share in your burdens and meet your needs as you meet someone else’s. This might look like having the listening ear of a trusted friend, seeking Biblical wisdom as well as professional counsel, asking for help with physical needs like meals or car rides, or gathering prayer support around you in your battles.
Remember, it isn’t selfish for you to be cared for, affirmed, and encouraged. Without these, you’ll be drawing from an empty well.
As Joshua’s story shows us, having encouragement from someone else can help us become better carers in turn.
We are stronger when we share our burdens and work together (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). While you may be a carer for someone else, you will also need to draw comfort and strength from others around you.
4. Your advocacy changes lives
It isn’t easy to talk openly about mental health in the church. However, your actions in caring for someone who experiences it can help de-stigmatise it. One simple suggestion from Joshua is to be careful not to thoughtlessly use words like “crazy”, “psycho”, “OCD”, that might further alienate those who are suffering in silence.
You could also help make your community a safe space by making a habit of checking in with those around you. For someone struggling in silence, a simple, “How are you, really?” could be a lifeline. When you encounter stigmatising behaviours like dismissive attitudes against mental illnesses (“Mental illness isn’t real,” or “Anxiety means you don’t have enough faith!”), you could speak up in love and gentleness to correct the misconceptions.
Like a tiny light that fills up a corridor of darkness, the little things you do to build up those who are broken and hurting in your community goes a long way to create safer spaces for all, not just your loved one.
Every member of your church community is part of a body (Romans 12:4-8) . Each part has unique gifts as well as needs, designed to sustain and support those around them.
5. Your love is a beacon of hope
On the days you feel discouraged, know that your compassion and love can be the glimmer of hope which points others to a greater Light. You represent Jesus in someone else’s life. He calls us to be the light of the world, pointing others beyond the sorrow, pain, and sickness to the hope that He offers, even as we embrace these emotions as part of our daily reality. This is hard but beautiful work, pleasing to God.
Just as Jesus is the light of the world, we are also called to be so (Matthew 5:14-15). Your love is a beacon of hope to those around you, drawing them closer to a God who hurts with us and cares for us.
We live in a world that’s been rocked by an ongoing pandemic and a mental health crisis resulting from lockdowns, isolation, financial insecurity, relationship stress, and so much more.
If you are a carer for someone who lives with poor mental health, know that the work you do is life-giving, even if you can’t always see the fruits of your precious labour.
If you are not, you can still play a vital role in collectively making the Church a safe and welcoming haven—a beacon for Christ in a world that’s crying out for hope and love.
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