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Opening Windows: Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) and Beyond

By Carole Wills, NAMI FaithNet Advisory Group

Puzzled over how to create greater vision and awareness in your congregation? We can't expect to change centuries of darkened prejudice and misinformation during only seven days of Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 3-9), but we can open new windows of enlightenment and hope. Telling our story, sharing NAMI resources, writing articles or leading a book study are just a few of the simple suggestions offered in the new NAMI FaithNet Mental Illness Awareness Toolkit, available at www.nami.org/faithnet.

The contents of the Toolkit include:

  • Suggested activities for Mental Illness Awareness Week
  • Suggested prayers and other resources for observing The National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (Tuesday, October 5; the prayers are in both English and Spanish.)
  • Ideas for a service of prayer for healing and hope (may be used any time)
  • A fact sheet explaining the special role that faith communities can play
  • Four books recommended for group discussion or a congregation's library
  • Links to 16 multi-faith Mental Health Ministry Resources
  • Tips on creating supportive congregations

Opening windows to greater awareness can happen in unpredictable ways. Read this excerpt from Mental Illness: a Window into the Soul, a blog entry from Jim Burklo.

"For several years, I was the director of an agency serving homeless people, most of whom had one form or another of mental or emotional disability. A relative of mine suffered from depression and anxiety, with some dramatic, unusual symptoms. Starting when I worked at Stanford, and now at USC, I have spent a lot of time with students suffering from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses.

A turning point in my relationships with them came when I realized that the seemingly random and disconnected utterances of people in psychosis turned out often to have very deep significance. Their symbolic, ritualistic expressions were profound reflections of their subjective experience. I began to see that much of the content of their expressions was universal in nature: a window into the souls of us all. We take our inner lives for granted, not examining the structure of the psyche, until there is a breakdown of that system. Then its contents are revealed, and we get a look at our inner emotional and spiritual structure. This inner architecture is beautiful, but it's not neat, tidy, and rational, and this can be a scary discovery…

I was staggered by the creativity of their efforts to bring order to the chaos they experienced. I began to see the heroism in their struggles, and this gave me a great deal of respect for them. I listened with new ears, and they responded positively when I took seriously what they had to say… Mental illness causes great suffering, but we should not overlook the spiritual awakenings and the depths of compassion to which it can lead us all."

Go ahead! Fling wide those windows of knowledge and awareness. We never know when they may lead others to greater compassion and insight during Mental Illness Awareness Week.


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