Offering “a hand up rather than a handout” is an often-repeated phrase in the nonprofit world. For many dealing with challenges such as homelessness and poverty, assistance in improving their situation can be an empowering turning point. But most adults living with serious mental illnesses face the reality that their situation may never improve enough for them to fully escape their ongoing suffering.
While medication, psychotherapy and other forms of treatment can help those diagnosed with mental illnesses gain stability, for the majority of those who deal with serious mental health challenges such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, these conditions bring a lifetime of struggle. These diseases have no cures, and a treatment plan is often an ever-changing path as brains stop responding to medication in the same ways and side effects take a toll.
These individuals’ struggles are severe and chronic. Coming alongside them well involves serving and caring for the long haul. It requires loving them consistently, providing ongoing support and showing up, again and again, with kindness and a listening ear. It’s about showing compassion, day after day, year upon year.
Compassion has two parts: a caring awareness of another’s suffering and a longing to ease that pain. Merriam-Webster defines it as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” It’s a term that originates from two words meaning “to suffer” and “with,” and the significance of those words remains today: To truly have compassion is to sit with another in his or her suffering.
Those dealing with serious mental health conditions face suffering of many kinds, but often the most devastating form is the pain of isolation. Mother Theresa once said, “The greatest suffering is to feel alone, unwanted, unloved. The greatest suffering is also having no one, forgetting what an intimate, truly human relationship is, not knowing what it means to be loved, not having a family or friends.”
This kind of suffering is only addressed through compassion—through being willing to step into someone’s pain, to see them and hear them and simply be with them. Sometimes this compassion involves providing resources and assistance, but at its heart it’s not about what is provided but about presence. Dutch priest, professor and author Henri Nouwen puts it beautifully:
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
This “suffering with” doesn’t necessarily change a person’s circumstances, and it’s not a solution to their struggles. But it’s a balm that affirms dignity and communicates love to people who so often are ignored or shunned. And, as we enter the pain of others, time and again, our chronic compassion becomes a lifeline of ongoing hope.
Your generosity enables the Well Community to be a place of chronic compassion for those living with serious mental illnesses. Give now.