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Breaking the Silence on Mental Illness and Marriage: A Q&A with Sarah Griffith Lund

Breaking the Silence on Mental Illness and Marriage: A Q&A with Sarah Griffith Lund

At Chalice Press, we're excited to be a platform for advocating for the rights, acceptance, and dignity of individuals living with mental illness.

Imagine a place where people with depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and other conditions feel safe, accepted, and valued—and can confidently share their struggles in their marriage—without suffering silently, alone, and in shame.

That is our author, Rev. Dr. Sarah Griffith Lund's vision. Through her new book, Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness and Marriage, she incorporates the latest science of psychology with traditional values of faith, exploring how God uses science, medication, and therapy to bring wholeness and healing. Dr. Lund also considers mental illness as a justice issue and how that calls us to respond as people of faith.

What inspired you to write Blessed Union?

Gandhi once said, “you must be the change you want to see in the world.” I figured if this is true, then likewise, “you must write the book you want to read in the world.” As a person who grew up in a family impacted by serious and chronic mental illness, as a person living in recovery from a mental health condition (post-traumatic stress disorder), and as a person in a marriage with someone who is also in recovery from mental health conditions (serious depression, general anxiety, and addiction), and as a Christian, I realized that no one was really talking about how the stigma and shame of mental illness impacts our blessed unions. From writing my first book, Blessed Are the Crazy, I realized that books can create spaces where we are allowed to speak the unspeakable and break the silence of mental illness. I discovered that in the telling of our true, hard stories, we find healing, find community, find support, and find hope.

You say that people with mental illness can still live happily ever after. What are the most important things couples can do toward that end?

One of the most important thing that couples can do is to be honest and intentional about creating realistic expectations that take into consideration the significant impact of mental health challenges on the marriage. For example, sometimes because of symptoms of mental health conditions, our partners cannot be our everything and meet our every need. If we or our partner is feeling numb, detached, fatigued, disoriented, and emotionally drained, they are not going to be able to emote and express love in a way that you may want and need. So have a back-up plan for how to get your deepest needs met. For me, this comes from creating a wide network of support and from setting up realistic expectations for how we will be able to meet each other’s needs.

Accept yourself and your partner just as you are without trying to fix the other person. Remember that nothing lasts forever, no emotion, no physical state of being, and no psychological state of being, positive or negative, will continue. Everything changes. You will change and your partner will change. Accepting change, being at peace with change, and being intentional about caring for your own mental wellness in the midst of change, that is really the only thing you can control.

What are the most common roadblocks to seeking help in a marriage with mental illness and how can you push through them?

One of the most common roadblocks to seeking help in a marriage with mental illness is the stigma. Stigma is a powerful, invisible force that can be internalized. This is called self-stigma. We can be in denial about our own experiences with mental health challenges. We can wonder, “how can this be happening to me?” It takes courage to admit that something isn’t right and it takes courage to admit to yourself first that you need help, that you can no longer live this way. We can overcome stigma by accepting our own human condition and that to be human is to have a brain and a body that gets sick sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with you. You are simply human and our mental health changes over the course of our lifetime.

The more we normalize the full spectrum of mental health that is common in the human experience, the easier it will be to recognize when there’s a problem, acknowledge things could be better, and reach out to get support. 

What kind of reaction have you gotten to the book so far? Has anything surprised you?

The response to the book affirms how lonely we’ve been in our marriages because of the stigma of mental illness. People are coming out of the shadows of silence, opening up, and reaching out. It’s the best feeling in the world to get a message from a reader who, after reading my book, feels less alone, feels seen, feels understood and feels companioned on the journey. Through telling these hard, true stories we create networks of support and in our connections we can find hope. I am reminded how tender this topic really is and yet, still taboo to talk honestly and openly about how mental illness impacts our most intimate relationships.

What are one or two tips that all of us can take, married or not right now, to cope with anxiety, depression, addiction, and other illnesses that have become more prevalent during this pandemic year?

If you don’t already have one, seek out a professional counselor or therapist. Start a relationship with a mental health professional and plan on quarterly mental health checkups. Or you can begin by asking your general practice doctor to make a referral for you. Mental health conditions can be treated and symptoms can be managed and people can recover and get better. Sometimes we give up and feel overwhelmed and think, “well, this is just how things are now.” Don’t give up on the possibility of things getting better. I’ve been on the up and down rollercoaster of mental illness. It can get better and sometimes it takes a long time and intentional work, but recovery is possible.

Mental illness in marriage in one space that mental illness shows up, but clearly, there are others. What is your next project related to breaking the silence on mental illness?

Mental illness impacts all of our relationships, from relationships with yourself, in terms of how you understand who you are in the world, to your relationships with your friends, partner, family, co-workers, neighbors and even your relationship with God. People of all ages experience mental health challenges, from birth to death. My next project tells the stories of how mental health challenges impact children and youth. More importantly, my next project will help communities to find support, resources, and, most of all, hope when addressing the mental health needs of children and youth.

Rev. Dr. Sarah Griffith Lund is the author of two books, Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and Church and Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness and Marriage.

Photo by Matteo Raw on Unsplash

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