A Pagan Framework for Healing/Coping with Mental Illness ~ How to Help Out a Friend (Part One)

We’ve almost all been there. For me, I’ve been there multiple times.

We see someone we love, someone we care so dearly about, and they are not well. They’re not right in the head. They’re down spiralling. They’re isolating themselves. And you just don’t know what to do!

It’s immensely frustrating for those on the sidelines to watch someone fall ill, especially if you have no experience with the illness in particular. It can be so hard to not say ‘just pull it together, you’ve got this!’, even if you know that’s not the thing to say. Because you just want to help, to see them get better.

In a sense, I’m lucky that I have some experience with mental illness.  It makes me understand those who I’ve watched and am watching suffer. It gives me a framework, a reference point from which to understand what they’ve gone and are going through.

But say you’re a pagan, and they’re a pagan. That complicates things, yet gives you a unique vantage point to work with them on their illness. So here I’ve put together a list of five points as to how you can care for and support someone with/through a mental illness. I will work on making more posts, aiming for a total of twenty pointers/tips in all. Please let me know if these are useful for you, if you’ve tried them out, how they’ve worked, and if you’ve got ideas to add to the list. I love discussion, so feel free to comment.

  • Ask them their beliefs on mental illness in relation to their spirituality. Do they believe they are being punished by bad karma? DO they think this is a trial from the gods they must suffer through? Or do they believe it’s bad brain chemistry from past trauma, or just a bad genetic lottery? It’s not really terribly important for you to know the exact specifics of  what kind of theology they have going on, but more to know how they perceive their illness as a whole. This is important because their perception of it will determine their response to it. If they feel like it’s fated and there’s nothing they can do, they’re less likely to try and get better. If they perceive it as a challenge, maybe they’ll be more willing to surmount it. I’m not saying any belief is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, just that it has repercussions on how a person approaches their illness -> and that’s important for you to know.
    • This type of conversation is also important because it opens the channels of communication. If a person feels bogged down by their illness and doesn’t know who to turn to, taking an active interest in asking specific questions can show your willingness to help.
    • Asking specific questions like this one in relation to paganism helps not only open the channels of communication, it also gives the person a chance to sound off on you/use you as a bouncing board for their thoughts. Maybe they won’t have a specific ideology, and that’s ok. Maybe they’re confused. But if they haven’t thought about it already, it’s a good thing for them to figure out.
    • So how do you ‘do’ this? Don’t pop this question while standing in the doorway on your way out to work or leave. Sit them down in a quiet space with a cup of their favourite drink. Engage in some pagan chit-chat, just a little of ‘pagan’ talk to get them in their ‘pagan’ frame of mind. You can also ask them gently how they are doing, and then segway from there.
      • example: ‘Hey, I’ve been checking out rocks lately, specifically amethyst. It vibes with me so well… how have you been anyways? Feeling good enough to spend time with your rocks? … Really? Hey, by the way, I’ve been wondering how you feel your [mental illness] in relation to your path.’
    • If they have a variety of mental illness diagnosis, pick the least stressful/least serious one to ask about. If they are comfortable, you can build from there to ask about the more serious conditions. So for example if your friend has anxiety and bi-polar, breach the topic by asking about the anxiety, just to try and keep them calmer.
    • Specific questions that you can ask to try and keep the conversation going is their mental illness/symptoms in relation to: their godphone, their magic, their ritual practices, their relationship with the gods, their relationship with nature, past lives, future in the afterworld, etc.
    • If you are not particularly spiritually close, you may get vague answers. And that’s okay. It’s good to just have these conversations.
  • Take them for a nature walk. Pagans love nature, even revere it. Nature is soothing, calming on the mind, and being out of doors is recommended by doctors (I think, just flying off of memory here). Now, here’s the important point. Don’t just drag them out the door for a walk through the city. Take them to an isolated space where there will be few people.
    • Example: you drive to their place, pick them up in their parking lot as close to the door as possible. You then drive together (listening to soothing music and no road rage) to a mountain or a little-used park. You walk a little (not too far, the point is not exercise but mental rest) and sit a little.
    • What to do during the walk? Point out flowers, herbs, and trees. Talk about tree lore. Talk about the moment. How pretty this and that is. Don’t wildcraft and plan for future projects, as that can be overwhelming and lead to failure. Space out silence and conversation together so that it’s not entirely either one.
  • Bring them a hot meal. This cannot be overrated. Meals are necessary, and cooking is a chore. Good food requires money and energy. If someone you know is in a hard patch, bring them food because they might not be able to prepare it for themselves.
    • But what do you make them? Pick something they like, but also something nutritious and ‘grounding’. Root vegetables mixes with veggies.
    • Bonus points if the food is magically cooked and has herbs and properties in it you can talk to them about.
    • Let them know you are bringing it and coming over. Don’t just drop by unannounced. Give them a chance to prep and ‘put a face on’ to be able to present themselves nicely/socially acceptably towards you.
    • Inviting them to eat at your place can be fun -> If and only if they’re up to leaving their home/safe space. Don’t force them to leave. Offer to bring it to them and don’t force your company on them either.
    • This should go without saying, but respect their food choices. If they’re on a ultra vegan raw diet binge, respect it and work with what they’re willing to eat.
    • Example: Hey, I feel/felt like cooking today, so I made you/will make  a XXX, can I drop it off later?
  • Offer to accompany them on a grocery run, or to do their groceries for them. I don’t mean you paying for it for them, but rather you doing the legwork. Grocery stores can be immensely overwhelming for people with anxiety and sensory overload. Having to compare prices can be just the tip of the iceberg, nevermind all the jostling and baby crying. So offer to do it for them. This can be a huge relief for them. Call/text ahead to give them time to prepare a list and see if they want to go out or if they will just hand you a list.
    • Example: Hey, I’m going out for groceries later, need anything? Want to come along?
  • Walk on their left side in public spaces. This is silly, but practical. It’s where service dogs walk for a reason, which is that all people passing (at least in North America) will pass on the left side, as we walk on the right. By being on their left, you create a barrier between the person and the passing strangers. You can use this shielding method in a variety of ways, not just always sticking to their left. Just stand between them and the largest source of motion, noise, or people.

3 Comments

  1. Yewtree says:

    This is great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Michael says:

      Oh thank you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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