How to Pray for Families Living with Mental Illness

When Catherine Downing read my article on How to Pray About Mental Illness When You Can’t Find the Words, she contacted me to share some helpful resources from her own experience. She writes,

Our son, Douglas, was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 22, but it wasn’t until he turned 34 that he was able to accept the diagnosis and receive treatment. During the twelve years of our son’s untreated mental illness, God taught me deep truths about how to keep believing in His light where there is only darkness, and trusting in His goodness when there is only pain.

Sparks-of-Redemptive-GraceTo protect the privacy of her family, Catherine writes under a pseudonym to share her story and encourage others through her blog and recent book, Sparks of Redemptive Grace: Seeking and Seeing God Amid a Loved One’s Mental IllnessI especially appreciate what she has to say about how to pray for families living with mental illness. She’s written 31 days, 31 ways to pray, and you’ll see the first 10 below along with Catherine’s introduction, reprinted here with permission. Thank you, Catherine, for sharing your heart and these helpful ways to pray.

Introduction: Families who walk alongside their loved ones in the labyrinths of mental illnesses are often hesitant to ask for prayer. They might feel others will judge them or their loved one, offer uninformed advice or initiate the gossip chain. But friends who observe or are aware of their journey don’t necessarily need specific details to pray effectively.

Families always need God’s provision for themselves and their loved ones in these areas:

Day 1: Peace. Fear, worry and confusion can stir up an oppressive cloud when a loved one is struggling with a mental illness. Pray families will experience the presence and love of God that will drive out fear. Pray they will receive Christ’s gift of peace, even amid the storm.

Day 2: Financial resources. The financial burden of caring for a mentally ill loved one cannot be overestimated. In addition to costs for medical care, there are, in some cases, expenses related to fines, legal fees, unconstrained spending sprees, accidents and property damages. Pray that God will provide the resources for families to pay for these extraordinary expenses and that they will not be overwhelmed by the added financial responsibilities.

Day 3: Community. Many families go into hibernation mode when their loved one is experiencing a severe episode. They can feel isolated and emotionally spent. Pray God will bring people to come alongside to support them, comfort them and pray with them. Pray caregivers will have the energy to reach out to local mental health support groups. Ask how you can be a part of God’s redemptive grace during difficult times.

Day 4: Healing. Although there is no medical cure for most severe mental illnesses there is always a spark of hope within families that their loved one will be healed. As Christians, we know that God can and does bring supernatural healing to many. Therefore we never stop asking God to intervene and touch our loved one. Join families in asking for such a miracle.

Day 5: Children in the family. Whether they are siblings or offspring, children are the forgotten. They are often overlooked when adults are trying desperately to cope with the mentally ill family member. Pray that those who are responsible to care for the children will stay aware of and be able to meet their needs. Pray the children will be protected from finding attention in unhealthy or unsafe ways from others who would do them harm.

Day 6: Protection. Those who deal with mental health difficulties are often victims of exploitation, abuse and crime. When severely depressed, there is an increased possibility that they will try to harm themselves. When in the grip of mania or psychosis, there may be increased aggression or high-risk behaviors. Join families in praying that God would surround their loved ones with angels. Pray God would direct them to places and people who are safe and caring. Pray for protection of caregivers and others when the ill family member is violent or abusive.

Day 7: Wisdom. The mental health systems in most areas are complex, difficult for family members to access and constrained in their ability to respond. Family members need wisdom regarding what kind of help to look for and where to get it. Pray they will find the kind of help they need at the time they need it.

Day 8. Companionship. Ignorance and stigma are just two reasons many people don’t reach out in friendship to those dealing with mental illnesses. It is common for families to be the only source of companionship for their loved ones. Pray with families that others will bring friendship and build community with their family member. Pray the loved one will be willing to participate in peer support groups. Pray that churches will become places of acceptance and inclusion.

Day 9. Medical treatment. In the last 20 years there have been great advancements in pharmaceutical treatments for mental disorders. But there is no perfect medication. Many have unrelenting side effects. Others lose their efficacy quickly. Some work only in combination with other medications, so there can be a complex combination of drugs. For those reasons and others, there is often resistance or noncompliance in taking medications. But when the right drugs are found and are taken, the results can be spectacular. Pray with families that the most effective treatments can be found for their loved ones and there would be a willingness to take—and keep taking—the medications.

Day 10. Forgiveness. A lot can go wrong in a family dealing with mental health difficulties. Harsh words, broken promises and destructive actions can shred trust and build thick barriers between family members. Pray God would pour forgiveness generously upon each person in the family—forgiveness for each other, and for themselves. Pray a spirit of forbearance and grace would create a healthy environment of kindness and love.

Writing Prompt: Choose one of these ways and write a prayer for a family that you know. What other ways of praying come to mind? Check out the rest of Catherine’s article, 31 days, 31 ways, 2 pray 4 families. . . . 

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