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The first full week of October each year is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Tuesday was National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding, a day we are asked to seek God’s guidance as we “recommit ourselves to replacing misinformation, blame, fear and prejudice with truth and love in order to offer hope to all who are touched by mental illness.”

Each of us is touched by mental illness at some time in our lives, either personally or through the struggle of someone we know. In my work as a pastor and counselor I have seen firsthand how mental illness affects individuals, families, and communities. I have witnessed emotional devastation and suffering and I have witnessed deep courage and resilience, often in the same people.

In my personal life I have known periods of severe depression, and moments when I felt all hope was lost and I was in such desperate pain that I considered ways to end my life. I am very grateful that the resources of faith, community, and treatment saw me through.

Mental illness is just that … an illness! It is diagnosable, it is treatable, and it is not a sign of weakness or failure.

A memorial in the local newspaper this past August from someone whose sister took her own life moved me deeply, so I share some excerpts here.

“This is my sister, Kim. I love this picture. This is how I want to remember her – carefree and unencumbered by life. I really miss her….

“Outwardly, she always seemed so tough, so in control and organized. But inwardly, she was fragile and emotionally destitute. It was 10 years ago that she took her own life.

“I wish she could have seen what was around the bend. I wish the love of her family had inspired her to get help. I wish she had shared the private hell she was going through so we could have been there for her.

“I wish I could have given her one more hug. I wish I could have told her I loved her one more time…. I wish I could have thanked her for the fun and joy she brought to my life. I wish….

“I am telling you all this because if you are depressed and can’t see a brighter tomorrow, please get help….

“Reach out! Reach out to your loved ones. Talk to a professional. Your depression is not something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It is a treatable disorder….

“My sister and I spent a week together every summer, and each summer we had a theme song. This summer I dedicate the song ‘Blue Sky,’ by Francesca Battiselli, to my sister and to you” [The Tribune, San Luis Obispo, CA, August 12, 2012].

Click here to play the song: Blue Sky

One of my colleagues, the Reverend Susan Gregg-Schroeder, has written a beautiful Pastoral Prayer for this week, a portion of which I share with you here:

“Loving Creator, we come … seeking your presence, comfort and guidance. We come as individuals living with mental illness, family members, friends, co-workers and mental health professionals.

“We come this day because we believe that you, Divine One, love each one of us just as we are. You walk with us on our individual journeys through life. You see the ignorance and injustice that divide and separate persons living with mental illness and you weep with us.

“Give us courage to face our challenges and open us today to the many ways you are already working in our midst. Help us to identify mental illness as the disease it is, that we might have courage and wisdom in the face of ignorance and stigma. Inspire us as we seek to overcome fear, acquire knowledge and advocate for compassionate and enlightened treatment and services….

“Sometimes, Divine Spirit, we feel discouraged and hopeless in the face of so many challenges. Help us to see ourselves as you see us – persons of value and worth, persons of creativity and potential.

“May we come to understand the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit in bringing about health and wholeness. And may we go forward into our communities with a renewed sense of vision, hope and possibility for the future. Amen.”

Words (c) 2012 Mark Lloyd Richardson (except where attributed to others)