Someone came over and stood at the foot of his bed and rubbed his feet. Writer and teacher Parker Palmer tells in one of his books about the time when he fell into such a deep depression that he could no longer get out of bed in the morning. Folks from his faith community and friendship circle wanted to help but no one knew what to do. Advice giving didn’t work. Encouraging didn’t work. One friend came over on a regular basis and simply stood at the foot of his bed and in silence, rubbed his feet. This simple act is what mattered most to him.

When a friend or loved one faces depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorder, post-traumatic stress or some chemical imbalance or some other form of mental illness, we often find ourselves unsure of how to respond. The pain can be exacerbated when we find ourselves holding it inside. The veil of secrecy around sharing one’s own experiences with mental illness causes us to feel isolated and alone.

The truth is that one in five adults will face mental illness this year and one in 20 will experience a severe mental illness. I ache for our young people knowing that the leading cause of death for those ages 10-34 is suicide. Many young teens and young adults are facing trials that I didn’t even dream about as a young person. Fifteen percent of teens face major depression each year. How can we be present to each other during times of mental as well as physical illness? We know to take a casserole after a heart attack or appendectomy but how do we help after a friend leaves a psychiatric hospital?

Duke Psychiatrist Patricia Resick writes about the importance of community in sharing trauma. Perhaps this is how we as a church can empower each other. Small groups, Bible studies, pastoral connections can be ways in which we offer one another the crucial support that lifts a friend or family to feel God’s divine love and grace in the midst of the challenges of mental illness. The spiritual mystic St. John of the Cross wrote in the middle ages about the “dark night of the soul.” And the letter of Paul to the church in Rome wrote about “the whole creation groaning…and the spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Sometimes the best we can do in times of suffering is to walk alongside one another.

Grace and Peace,