This article is a follow-up to James Coker’s article on living with mental illness. 

My husband and I have been together for 16 years. I remember the first time I saw him and how taken I was with him. As time went by and we grew to know each other better, I was without a doubt in love with him. Being with him was all that I wanted, and the day that he committed himself to the Lord, I knew this was the man I was meant to spend the rest of my life with.

From day one I could tell he was an introverted individual, never having to be the center of attention. But that was ok with me. I enjoyed being alone with him and peacefully spending time together. As the years went by I noticed he was even more reserved than before, but figured we all have our own personalities and change as we develop a liking or disliking to things. I tried to go with it and adjust. Eventually, adjusting wasn’t enough, and it seemed as though the man I loved and admired so much became a shadow of the man he used to be. We would seek counseling and help, and the journey to healing was much more than I ever knew it would be, but I loved him, and would do anything to ensure he was happy.

If you have ever loved someone who has struggles with mental health, you probably know the difficulties that come with it. The highs and the lows, the good days and the bad – it can be heartbreaking to watch the person you love so much have such a struggle with life. It is important for you to know you are not alone, and lots of individuals in the world share a very similar position. Our society is just beginning to scratch the surface on the depths and importance of mental health. It is not easily understood, nor is it the same for every person and situation, hopefully these points will help you to be the best support you can be.

Pray for them. This is the first and most important piece of the puzzle. They and you need God to be the front line in your battle to regain peace. I’m not even sure where my husband, myself, or our marriage would be without prayer and the comfort we have by knowing God is in control.

Love them unconditionally. Many who struggle with their mental health already feel they are worthless and unlovable. They question anyone’s feelings towards them and sometimes feel they don’t deserve anyone to stand by their side. Hold their hand. Be their rock. Be the one person at the end of the day that makes them feel like they are worth it and deserve the love you give. Remember the promise you made the day you committed your lives to one another, “For better, or for worse, in sickness, and in health.” But don’t do it just because you promised it, do it because you love them so much, and walking with them through these times is putting your love in action.

Try to understand. Be involved, do research, and try to understand how they feel and what they are going through. Even though you have never experienced what they do, even if you have never heard of it, does not mean they are not dealing with it. This does not mean you should try to diagnose them on your own, or question treatments they are undergoing. The important key here is to take the time and try to comprehend what they are going through.

Do not down play what they share with you. When they come to you and tell you the things they feel and experience, try to understand they are completely 100% feeling what they say they feel. Do not minimize or write off these things because you may not understand them. Do not tell them they are ridiculous or make them feel belittled by their experience. You want them to share these things with you. Many times they keep every thing in and to themselves. This is not beneficial to them, nor will it be to yourself.

Give them what they need. There are times when they need a moment of silence, a hike, a day on the water, or at the beach, or a nice long drive with the music turned up. This acts as a chance to do self reflection and clear their minds. Allow them to get that release they need. Sometimes it’s not alone time. Sometimes their love language needs to be spoken clearly, or sometimes they just need a hug. Be there to fill those needs. With this point, I want to emphasize that giving them what they need does not go outside the realms of what is acceptable to God in any way.

Listen. For some, it is not often that they will open up about the things they go through presently, or in the past, so when they do, sit and listen. Do not judge, and do not give advice unless they ask for it. Just be there to listen.

Do not nag, complain, or guilt trip. This one is hard, because the majority of the time we are capable of doing this without even knowing it. There are days when they struggle to even get out of bed, so the last thing they want or need are comments that hurt and cut them deeper. Yes, you are also a victim of mental health struggles, but they are the bigger victim. Support and encourage when you can. If you feel you need to have your voice heard, or they need to work on something, make sure you take the time to clearly communicate in a loving way.

Encourage them. Be their biggest fan, because you are rooting for them. Many days they feel completely defeated, discouraged, and disliked. Make sure they know you’re in their corner.

Do not make it about you. They can already feel like the world is against them, do not make them feel guilty because when they needed to take that long drive you had to cook dinner and bathe the kids alone. This can lead to even more guilt, and now they have upset the one person they thought loved them. Realize they are fighting a bigger monster, and you can manage to take care of things when they need to focus on themselves for a moment.

Don’t neglect yourself. Make sure you take time for yourself, have a friend you can confide in, pray, study, and even seek counsel for yourself if you need it. It is important to do what you can to ensure you stay strong and healthy. Neglecting your own mental health will not be beneficial for yourself or the ones you love.

Unfortunately, there is no magical answer that will help the ones we love so much and make them better over night. It is important to remember that while it is a trying and difficult time, God has promised that this is molding you both to become more complete. Through the good days and the bad, the confusion and the answers, the lessons you are learning help you to understand how deep love runs and what it means for them to know they have someone to be with them through it all. No one has promised to love my husband like I have, and I am convicted that no one can love him like I do. I have learned, and am still learning what he needs and how he thinks, it is a process, and one we are still trying to master. But at the end of the day, I hope my husband knows I support him, I am there for him, and I love him.

By Wanda Gail Coker