Until one has undergone pain, discouragement, isolation, confusion, and fear, it is difficult to really understand and appreciate these experiences that people with mental illness must deal with on a day-to-day basis. Having gone through such experiences, a person is more able to empathize with and feel the suffering that others must endure. From this comes a greater desire to help and to share one’s own experiences. This helps both the giver and the receiver feel less alone. The receiver now realizes that at least one other person knows what it is to live with this condition and to have survived. If that is possible, then this gives hope that he or she too might be able to make it. In The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen discusses the role that emotional pain plays in making a person able to help others navigate through similar situations. It is that pain that often qualifies a counselor to lead others out of darkness and toward the light. Thus, having mental illness may help make a person qualified to support others who are similarly afflicted. (from Faith & Mental Health)

Note from Marja:

Currently, an effort is underway to try and help “well” supporters understand the pain felt by stigmatized friends. In the Name of Jesus is a book by Marja Bergen that tries to sensitize readers to the pain of sufferers. Watch for a soon-to-be-released booklet (Healing the Effects of Stigma) that will try to give friends specific responses with which to help their loved ones find healing.

Can we who are well learn to have better empathy?