Kanye West’s breakdown reminded me of my own struggles with mental health
Michelle Lai // August 4, 2020, 8:23 pm
Image Source: Reuters and The Post and Courier.
Reading the news on how Kanye West was acting bizarrely and making references to the faith during a presidential campaign rally made me reflect on my own mental health journey and how people around me responded to it.
While no one knows for sure what sparked such behaviour, his wife Kim Kardashian has spoken out about West’s struggle with bipolar disorder and asked for empathy following that incident, which saw him breaking down into tears during his speech.
With the American celebrity having gone public about his Christian testimony in recent months, it’s natural for doubts such as these to arise: Can you take the words of someone who is suffering from mental illness seriously? What if it involves an encounter with Jesus and a conversion to Christianity? Did they really hear God or was it all just emotions running high?
These are tough questions, but what I can do is to share from my own experience as a Christian who has struggled with mental health and had a breakdown some years ago.
In 2016, I was doing quite well in university, and my depression and psychosis were under control. However, during a leaders’ retreat with some friends from my school’s Christian Fellowship, I had a relapse as I forgot to take my medication. I had to be hospitalised for four months and couldn’t attend school, much less serve in ministry that year.
The responses from my friends varied. Most of them didn’t know how to relate to me or comfort me, and some of them avoided me. My breakdown also led to rumours – people wondered if what I said when I was sick reflected who I truly was, while others questioned if my understanding of Jesus was clouded by my mental illness.
Speaking as someone who has recovered and is now an advocate for mental health issues, I want to say that people can say confusing or controversial things during a breakdown, as they might be repeating the voices that they hear from their hallucinations or delusions.
Having said that, this doesn’t mean that the encounters that they have with God when they are well are not genuine. God’s hand is not too short to reach anyone, and He can work through anything – even mental illness. Only God alone can see what’s in a person’s heart, so we should avoid being quick to pass judgment.
In my own experience, I’ve been able to grow in my knowledge of who God is and hear Him speak to me through His Word, thanks to the support I’ve received from my brothers- and sisters-in-Christ over the years.
As such, I would like to share a few practical tips that could help believers better respond to those who might be struggling with mental illness within the Church, so that we can become a loving community to those who really need a friend.
COMFORT, NOT CONFRONT
During a breakdown, people can say things that they do not mean. When a person is very agitated, try not to argue with them or engage in a conversation about the things that they are ranting about.
Instead, look out for the person’s physical needs and safety. Ask them to rest, and assure them that you will be keeping watch by their side.
If a person said that they saw someone in the corner asking them to go over, you don’t have to argue that there is no such person, nor agree that you see that person just to pacify them. You could say that yes, although they see someone, it might be dangerous to go over, so they should stay by your side for their safety.
In my case, after I recovered, I had absolutely no recollection of what I did or said when I was sick.
REAFFIRM THE FRIENDSHIP
After the person is feeling better, they will often feel guilt and shame about what they said or did when they were sick.
You can affirm them of your friendship despite what has happened and tell them that you care about their health. If there is an opportunity to do so, you can also relate what happened during the breakdown, and share your feelings and thoughts about it, so that your friend can understand your point of view.
Be honest with one another – my friends and I have openly acknowledged that, sometimes, it’s difficult for me to keep up with their energy levels and conversations due to my depression, while it’s also hard for them to relate to my feelings as they often don’t know what to say when they see me suffering.
POINT THE PERSON BACK TO GOD
A person recovering from mental illness can still sometimes be confused. If they say something that is contrary to Scripture, you can bring up the topic again when they are well. Clarify with them what they really mean and share your thoughts with them from God’s Word. Take time to pray together as well.
You can also encourage your friend to grow deeper in their faith by attending Bible study classes and playing an active role in church if their energy levels and health allow for it. It can demoralising to be told to stop serving when you’re on the road to recovery, even though the advice comes from good intentions.
In my experience, participating in Bible study classes and church fellowship has allowed me to be more integrated with my Christian community. It has also helped me to have a healthy, growing relationship with Christ instead of basing my faith on highly charged emotions that tend to affect those who are struggling with mental health.
BE SENSITIVE IN YOUR SPEECH
Finally, we can all be mindful of how we talk about mental illness within the Church. Even small changes in the words we use can make a difference. For instance, referring to someone as “struggling with mental illness” as opposed to “mentally ill”.
Instead of gossiping about the person, speak to them directly or to your leaders. Pray for them too instead of talking about them.
The Bible tells us that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10) – the devil can certainly use mental illness to take away our personal wellness as well as rob the Church from having a healthy and edifying community.
Let us remember that it’s important to recognise a person’s worth as a fellow human being made in the image of God and someone that Christ has died for.
I’m thankful that within my Christian community, our love for Christ and one another enabled us to work through my mental health struggles together. Our friendships were strengthened, as we learnt how to treat each other with grace, reflecting God’s love and His desire for unity.
THINK + TALK
- Do you know what are the causes of mental illness?
- Have you ever been stumbled by the words or actions of a person struggling with a mental health condition?
- How can you show love to someone who might be suffering from a mental illness today?