Recently, someone brought it to my attention that October is Mental Illness Awareness Month. While I prefer to use the term "mental health", I think the intent is the same nonetheless. Many,many people, around us every day, struggle with mental health issues. They wrestle with depression, they fight suicidal ideation, they give in to inner turmoil, voices and struggles.
Not all mental illness is the publicized image of a homeless person mumbling to himself or a person screaming in a room. From mild depression to disorders of greater magnitude, the likelihood is that each of us will experience some mental struggle in our lives.
What can the faithful do in response? We can respond in three ways: 1) with logic , 2) with compassion and 3) with faith.
We can, logically, encourage and embrace scientific research and investigation into the real causes and solutions to mental illness. We can recognize the legitimacy of psychological disorders and psycho-social illness. We can seek genuine cures and helps- not fades of the moment that may hurt far more than they help. We can educate or support education efforts so that people understand mental health as a organic part of their lives- no different from physical health.
We can, compassionately, seek ways to use our gifts to help those around us whose lives are affected by mental illness. We can sit with a family after a suicide, even in quiet support (which is very different from silent judgment). We can bring food and clothing to homeless shelters and way-houses in our communities, recognizing that some peoples' struggles with mental health render them unable to live life in a way we might recognize. We can forward efforts to end bullying, support legitimate rehab programs and facilities, and refuse to find humorous jokes at the expense of the mentally ill.
Finally, we can, faithfully, pray for our brothers and sisters who struggle with their mental health. We can ask for guidance in the steps above and what we can do that goes beyond those realms. We can make our churches places that people believe they will find help and consolation. We can wrestle with the tension of the world as we wish it would be and the world as it is... and we can meant it when we pray, "Your will be done on earth as in heaven." Then we can dust off our knees and (to paraphrase Rabbi A. J. Heschel) we can pray with our feet, our hands and all else we have.