Mental Illness: Opening Up To Compassion

I’ve spent the last few posts (here, here and here) writing about the various causes of mental illness as we currently understand them. And what seems to be the common link between them – life!

That’s right – the way we’re parented, the personality we’re born with, the society we live in, the stressors we face, how we’re constructed physically – they all have a direct impact on our mental wellbeing.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write about the causes – to show not only how complex but also how ubiquitous they are. It really is by the grace of God that those who enjoy good mental health are the way they are and that’s something they need to be eternally grateful for. At the same time though, it needs to bear fruit in the form of compassion for those who suffer.

Standing Confidently in Mental Illness

But I also wanted to stand confidently in my mental illness and try to educate others so that stigma might be reduced and understanding increased.

Only by seeking to understand the causes of mental illness can each of us do our part to work towards improving mental health for all, whether that be through better parenting, lobbying for more spending, creating a more equitable and compassionate society, or simply embracing a mentally ill person.

Finding Out Who You’re Friends Are

3F994054-7F12-4512-9E17-6E5C705858E9At another level, by coming out both in my blog and in public, I wanted to test my relationships, to see who my real friends are, who would be there alongside me in spite of my illness. I didn’t want to wear a mask any longer, it was too difficult, too exhausting.

After all, if I had developed cancer or heart disease, I like to believe that I’d get a lot of support. But madness? Now that’s a whole new ball game.

I have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Those closest to me…I’m lucky to have a circle of close friends….already had an idea I wasn’t well and yet still chose to maintain our friendships. It simply upped the ante a little when I explained that I just didn’t have simple depression but a more serious form of mental illness. Even when I was hospitalised many of them offered to pop in and see me on the ward. Since I’ve been housebound I’ve enjoyed a steady stream of friends who’ve visited me at home where we’ve shared good chats.

Yes, there have been a few that either don’t get it or don’t want to, but they’re in the minority. I can tell by the way they either avoid me or talk down to me now as if I were a child. That’s hurtful, but I choose not to focus on these.

Mental Illness is NOT a Sign of Weakness

I think another fact I wanted to get across is that mental health issues are not a sign of weakness. I’ll explore this more in a later post, but safe to say that I wanted to play down the idea that it’s something you can just ‘snap out of’, or the other equally popular misconception that given enough effort anyone can recover from mental illness.

Trust me, I’ve read literally hundreds of books, been in counselling on and off for twenty years, taken part in a 12 step recovery group, taken medication, prayed daily and yet I still see this illness encroaching more and more on my life. I work hard just to survive.

Because mental illness isn’t visible it’s easy to ignore the severity of the illness and how it is affecting the sufferer. It’s easy to tell the difference between the suffering and chances of recovery when you’re faced with a broken finger versus a paraplegic. It’s not so easy when it’s mild depression or bipolar disorder.

You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to just pull themselves together and get over it, least of all ask them to run a marathon. Nor would you tell someone in a wheelchair to look on the bright side (however helpful that might be). Yet over the years I have faced so many of these platitudes, most of which come out of a place of ignorance rather than malice. I’ve just learned to take them with a pinch of salt.

I Am Not to Blame for My Illness

Finally, along similar lines, I hoped that by sharing in my blog I would be able to demonstrate that I am not to blame for my illness. I can’t deny that my illness has caused me to make many poor decisions which have contributed to my condition, but this is part of the illness, not the cause. Telling me that I must be able to control it or ‘cure’ myself denies the reality of its nature.

By understanding the causes hopefully you can see that severe mental illnesses are no more curable than any serious physical health problem, perhaps even less so.

Overcoming Stigma and Growing In Compassion

No, I just hope that by gaining and sharing a little more understanding, we can all overcome our fears of and the stigma attached to mental illness, and in the process develop greater compassion and empathy for those who suffer in its grip.

That by opening up the debate we can begin to address some of the issues that lead to mental illness like emotional and spiritual neglect, broken homes, a selfish society and downright ignorance.

And that we can all make changes in our own lives to make mental health a reality for everyone of us.



His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied: Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”


Dear Lord

Open my eyes to those I would prefer not to see

Open my life to those I would prefer not to know

Open my heart to those I would prefer not to love

And so open my eyes to see

Where I exclude you

(Iona Community)

6 thoughts on “Mental Illness: Opening Up To Compassion

  1. Ian, thank you so much for sharing. Aa the oarent if an adult child eith a severe mental illness, I applaud your efforts to remove the stigma, to educate, to be open and transparent. If we all lived that way, without masks, without fear of judgement, it would be a better world. God bless you!


  2. Ian, thank you so much for sharing. As the parent of an adult child with a severe mental illness, I applaud your efforts to remove the stigma, to educate, to be open and transparent. If we all lived that way, without masks, without fear of judgement, it would be a better world. God bless you!


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