This is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and today in the US it is the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding. Having worked in John Umstead State Hospital in Butler, NC, USA for a summer, I want to bring awareness of this event. The summer I spent there opened by eyes to mental illness in people aged from very young to very old.
But one thing I remember learning was told to us on the first day by our supervisor, the chaplain at Umstead: ‘The mentally ill are just like us, only more so.’ None of us are free from the effects of mental illness – they may simply not be so severe. For many in Britain, I have found the stigma even harsher than that in the US, where people have been growing in understanding. We need more awareness over here and an environment that allows people to get the help they need, whether mild or severe.
My former ethics precepter at Duke, Dana Dillon, tells of her relationship with her brother Paul, who has schizo-affective disorder. On her blog she talks about Paul and in this post, NAMI and her walk to raise money and awareness of mental illness.
To all the patients of Umstead Hospital who were there during my time, and in particular those with whom I had the pleasure of knowing and whose names must be left unspoken, I still remember you and pray for you.
On the NAMI website, Margaret Ann Holt has written this prayer that can be used in worship this week:
O, God, we gather here together today, as people from many different faith communities. We come before You, remembering all those persons whose lives have been touched by mental illnesses. We give thanks for those persons here who have given of their time and talents to do what they are able to help persons who are dealing with mental illnesses in their lives and in the lives of their families and friends. We give thanks for the improvement in medication and treatment programs that have enabled persons with mental illnesses to live productive lives. We pray that our society would do everything possible to make early diagnosis and treatment a standard operating procedure. We pray and ask that stigma be removed, so that persons and their families would get the appropriate help as soon as symptoms appear. Guide each one of us, and help us, as we endeavor to bring help and hope to those families and individuals. Amen
Read in unison:
The faith community says to those people who suffer from the symptoms of mental illness, and to their family members:
We will walk with you. And God walks with you. You will not go through this alone.
Pray in unison:
O Lord, you have searched us and known us
You know when we sit down and when we rise up,
and know our innermost thoughts.
You search out our paths and know all our ways.
Before we speak, you know our words.
When we were knit together in our mother’s womb
You knew us as woman, as child, as man.
Wherever we go, Your hand will lead us.
So guide us along the pathways to hope,
that night becomes bright as day.
So lead us on our walk together,
that darkness is lifted from our hearts.
So encourage us that our sisters and brothers
Who have mental illness shall know that
they never walk alone.