16 December 2012

What Shall We Then Do?

A Dear Uncle with A Newborn Niece

 This article was lighting up my newsfeed over the past few days.  If you've not, please read it.
In it, Liza Long plainly articulates the everyday reality of living with a child who is mentally ill.  She doesn't offer many solutions, but she asks for help.

I have a mentally ill brother.

We had these types of scary moments at my house growing up.

My brother has always had a child-like sweetness and generosity of spirit.  He adores my children.  When he was young, he knew the diet, mating habits, and habitat of every species of fish and snake around, and could - and did - quote it all.  He was a walking wikipedia of marine life. My brother is to his family what a mother bear is to her cubs. 

He once, at the age of nine, chased a friend of mine, age twelve, around the house with a paring knife. One afternoon, he held a power hose nozzle on me, refusing to let me leave the back yard.  When I was in college, and he in high school, he threw my mother's canister vacuum cleaner down the stairs at me.  He was kicked out of more schools than I can count - and we long since quit counting. 

My parents sought help early and constantly, and while wonderful folks tried, there wasn't a really good answer.

And now, my brother floats in and out of jails and rehabs.
We are blessed that he, while anger management is still a struggle, has never been a vengeful person, but, rather was always reacting to in-the-moment stressors.  Also, he seems to have, thanks be to God, outgrown these physically scary and dangerous responses.  His outbursts are now verbally abusive, which, while remaining a burden, are much less panic-inducing. 

So, Liza Long asked for help in her article.  But folks do not know how to help.  Not even mental health professionals seem to know how to assist these young men who are afflicted with this specific, difficult to diagnose, and seemingly impossible to cure illness.

And most of us aren't mental health professionals or legislators or policy advisers or other sorts of folks to be on the ground working with a systemic, logistical solution.

But, most of us, whether we have an awareness of this or not, are in a position to be very helpful.

First, pray.
Pray for this issue continually.
Pray for the mentally ill in general - that they will know the healing power and peace of Jesus.
Pray for any specific people that you know of who struggle with mental illness.  Pray that they'll be spared from the worst symptoms of these diseases. 
Pray for their families, especially their parents.  Pray for them to be sustained by God's wisdom and mercy to us all.
Pray for those people who venture into the field of mental health.  Pray that they'll be granted knowledge of - and the ability to put into place - real solutions that are both effectual and merciful.
Pray for those saints who engage with the mentally ill in their ministries.  Pray that they'll be rewarded for their great work and that they'll see results in this world.
 Since we are commanded to give thanks for all things, give thanks that you've been placed in a world currently dealing with this issue.  And, especially give thanks if you have the privilege of ministering to specific families of mentally ill persons.

Second, minister to anyone you know who struggles with mental illness.
Treat them with kindness.
Be normal.

Third, minister to the families of the mentally ill.

Do not stigmatize.  Having a mentally ill family member is not an embarrassment.  Are family members with cancer embarrassing?  
Do not pretend there isn't a problem. 
Do not pretend you understand the problem. 
Do not ever let the sentence, "well, if he was my child, I'd..." come across your lips.  You do not know what you would do.  I grew up with it, and I do not know what I'd do.
Do not attempt to diagnose.

Ask if and how you can help.  One great way is to minister to any siblings.  Grab them for the day.  Any respite is welcome when chaos is a reality.
Food is always a ministry.  Always.  Second only, of course, to laughter. 
Follow the lead of the person in your life about how much and when to discuss the problem.  Some folks are open and benefit from people checking in.  Some are tired and want to talk about the BCS standings, the weather, the anything but.  Provide openings without prying. 

Fourth, remember. 

Always remember that, but for His grace, there go we all. 

Honor the truth that sick people can do evil things.  The deeds are no less evil because they are sick, and the people are no less sick because they do evil things.

Remember that the vast majority of those who struggle with mental illness are not on the verge of engaging in destructive behavior.  

Talk to your children about emotional struggles that all people have.  Talk to them about right reactions to their own emotional struggles, and reactions to those folks who they encounter who have much more acute problems. 

God has blessed and protected my family from much of the sorrow experienced by Ms. Long, and certainly from the reality experienced by the Lanza family.
To Him, we are grateful for this and all of his mercies upon us. 

Join me in giving thanks for all of the blessings we all experience everyday. 
They are abundant and we deserve them not. 


  1. Thank you so much for sharing! And thank you for giving me ways to love on others!