Do we ever stop and think? Put ourselves in the shoes of another? That’s what we’re told we should be doing, after all shouldn’t we be aware of just what it means to be aware of mental illness?

My path is a familiar one – I met a bloke who was broken, down, lost, desperate and just looking for someone to help him – he was drowning in the minefield of self loathing, pity, remorse and his goal was for everything to be ‘the way it used to be!’

This bloke was from a similar background to myself, an engineer by trade, married, children, a house, etc etc….. Except he’d suffered a blow to the head which had changed his personality. He used to be overly confident with a tendency to strike first and ask questions later – especially when alcohol or women were involved – a formidable individual. This wasn’t the man I now knew. He had become timid, vulnerable, and afraid of his own shadow! In fact I could write a book on the complexities and experiences with this mate, but this is supposed to be a blog, so I will keep it short and to the point …

My initial reaction was, as most people, one of pity. But as his condition began to unfold I found myself getting frustrated, expecting him to see things as I did, to understand the simple messages I was trying to get across – encouragement, positive mental attitude…. and so on! What I was failing to do was empathise with him, rather I tried to sympathise and help ‘fix’!!! What a bloke default position that is – broken, must fix!

His condition got worse – he lost his marriage and house. He spent an eternity going in and out of the mental health system, and eventually ended up hiding in the local woods for about a month surviving on river water! He was found hours from death by a walker.

When I first saw him in hospital after he was found, he was just a skeleton with frost bitten feet. He was in a desperate condition, but at least he was alive…

Fast forward to today and my friend would tell you that even though he chose that route, the things that kept him going were his faith in Jesus, his friends words of encouragement and the support people tried to give him at his lowest points. He didn’t forget these things. There is so much more to this story, and maybe there is a book to be written, but this isn’t the place.

To sum this up I’d refer to 1 Corinthians 13 – The Way of Love. Everything we do needs to be out of love, sometimes a concept alien to us blokes, and the love I have for my friend only came from my Fathers love for me. To be honest I didn’t like him a lot of the time as his mental illness. It made him unpredictable, irrational, with a propensity to lie for need of affirmation. But I did have compassion and love for him, because of the love Jesus showed for me.

We have to choose to love, and for the right reasons – there is no point in doing this unless that’s the primary reason behind it.

If you need to reach out and begin the journey away from the precipice the starting point is to tell someone. Talk to someone you trust, let family or friends know what’s going on for you, they may be able to offer help and support. If you find it difficult to talk to someone you know these free helplines are there to help.

Help and support is available right now if you need it. You don’t have to struggle with difficult feelings alone.

If you’re worried about someone, try to get them to talk to you. Ask open-ended questions like: “How do you feel about…?” Don’t worry about having the answers. Just listening to what someone has to say and taking it seriously can be more helpful. See Samaritans’ tips on how to start a difficult conversation.

Image Credit: Alex Iby