When Too Much Help is Detrimental

Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Acts 2:38 and 41

I have personally experienced multiple mental health crises in the past, which ultimately resulted in my hospitalization. Inevitably, when someone is hospitalized for psychosis, offers of assistance often come from various individuals. It is overwhelming. A tsunami of possible coping strategies can flood in all at once. Some may be legitimate; some may originate from well-intentioned codependents, and others may be extended by individuals who wish to help but have no comprehension of a mental health crisis. The anxiety-inducing amount of offers of help, assistance, and unsolicited advice have always ended up being detrimental to my recovery. I believe individuals with mental health conditions need assistance that is focused, professional, proficient, and carefully allocated.

Wouldn’t it be ideal if mental wellness were accepted wholesale by those in need, just like how Peter did the work of God in chapter 2 of Acts? Peter was able to bring a new perspective to 3000 people in one day. This is evangelism at scale. However, the spiritual healing needed after a mental health crisis goes beyond any profound and foundational spiritual experience, such as renewal through baptism or any ritual.

If our neighbor is experiencing a mental health crisis, believers may think that repentance, reconciliation, a restoration of ethics, confession, amends, devotion, prayer and church attendance all come along with any conversion experience. Simply put, I have witnessed the faithful believing that church communities can front-load mental health assistance, get someone back on the right path quickly, and let God do the rest of the work. Instead, it is more effective to understand that a profound experience, like when Peter baptized 3000 people in Jerusalem, is merely the beginning of a larger process of grace.

Grace will not overwhelm. Grace means gradual healing. Grace is a slow but perpetual process. If grace is at the center of our mental health outreach, then I am confident that spiritually minded people will patiently provide assistance at the appropriate rhythm, cadence, and tempo.

Spirit of grace, grant discernment to all helpers and, when necessary, slow our rate of assistance in order for others to flourish within the space provided for healing.

Seth Perry

Seth Perry

ELCA Pastor -Devotional Blogger- Mental Health Recovery Educator-Living Well with Bipolar Type 1


4 Responses

  1. These words also apply outside of the realm of mental health crises. We are a society who often looks for quick fixes for problems that life offers to most on a daily basis. Often, if encountering someone who is “in distress,” we can be quick to offer them a solution even if it is not solicited. Being present with a person in need may be all that is really needed and the advice can be more agitating than helpful.

    1. Thank you Tupper!

      I agree. Being present is not a quick fix. It has great value. I have been the one in need and the presence of another has really helped. Being present allows things to progress in a way that doesn’t overwhelm those in need.

      Appreciate the comment.

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A devotion. This week I openly share my experiences with multiple mental health crises, shedding light on the overwhelming offers of help and unsolicited advice I encountered. Drawing parallels to Peter's spiritual conversion of 3000 people in Acts, I explore the misconception that church communities can provide instant solutions to mental wellness. Join me in discovering the importance of grace and a gradual healing process in effective mental health outreach.