When I talk to healthy friends, people who care about me, I realize they will never fully understand what it means to live with a mental illness, no matter how much explaining I do. The issue is not the illness itself and what it does to the person living with it. The main issue is the discrimination we live with. The discrimination that causes us to be set apart, causing more suffering than our illness does.

Friends who want to learn about us and help us, will have to listen to us to understand what it is to live with illnesses that cause so much shame. Hearing from those who teach on mental health topics will help you learn about our conditions. But hearing it from our own perspective is the only way you could learn what it is to experience it.

If understanding is to improve, it’s our own voices that need to be heard.  Would you, as a friend of a person with mental health issues, be willing to listen?

Friends with such illnesses might tell you that they feel looked down on, that they’re shunned, rejected, not respected, and that they’re not taken seriously. They would tell you that they’re not considered as smart or wise as “regular” people.

You can imagine how it would feel knowing the world has such an opinion of you.

But the above does not reflect reality. They are lies produced by a world that does not accept those who are different, a world that does not believe they are as human as they themselves are.

How can you, as people who care, create a better world? Discrimination is a gigantic evil that will unfortunately always be with us. How can we overcome such evil?  In Romans 12:21, the apostle Paul tells us “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And I believe the greatest good possible is Jesus and the love he has for us.

At first glance we might think that discrimination is an impossible problem. And yes, we’ll never eliminate discrimination, but we can overcome the effects of it. We can do so, one hurting person at a time, through the love God has put inside us to share. They don’t have to be held captive by such evil. Through the spirit of Jesus Christ, we can help them find healing in the way Jesus himself did so many years ago.

So, how can we do that? The best way is to learn to better understand your friends who are hurting in this way. That’s one step toward becoming a person who can be there for them.

As one who has suffered in this way, I’m hoping you will spend some time listening to us. We want to be known for who we truly are.

Here Is a rough example of how such a conversation might go. If you know of someone who might be open to talking, don’t be afraid to ask. They might be happy to have someone interested in them and their life.


Before starting a conversation that will call for vulnerability and honesty, it’s always good to spend a few minutes and consider how Jesus would handle it. Think of the heart he has for others, especially those who might be lonely and needing his love. Can you come into the conversation with such a heart? Quietly, gently, respectfully.

“I’d really like to understand what it’s like for you to live with mental health issues? Would you be okay sharing a little with me? “

“There’s such a lot of shame connected with mental illness. I hope you don’t think I believe you have anything to be ashamed of. I believe you and I are children of the same God, equally loved by him.”

“I’ve heard a lot about the many unfair ways in which people with mental illness are treated—like being excluded from social circles, thought to have no credibility, and not listened to in the way others are listened to.“

What has your experience been?

How did that make you feel?

Would you like to tell me more? I’m listening.

. . . You could end with encouragement similar to this. Tell your friend in no uncertain terms, “I believe you are of great value to God. You are his child and he wants you to get the most out of life. This is something you must believe. Mental health issues don’t have to hold you back from a full life.”


(I’m not a professional caregiver. Since 2006, I have given spiritual support as a peer to people living with all sorts of mental health issues. I write from the point of view of someone who has been there and understands—someone who wants to share the faith she has found in God.)
This has been Part 9 of the series In the Name of Jesus. Go to Part 10 – When Least is Expected.