Mental illness and related issues might come up in the lives of broken families and families in crisis, so it seems helpful to talk about prayer and mental illness. How should somebody suffering from mental illness approach prayer?
First it might be helpful to remember that mental illness is suffering, so we might start by approaching mental illness as we would other suffering. Meditating on the Passion might be helpful for anybody that is suffering, and mental illness might not be any different. (It can be easy to forget that mental illness is just one form of suffering; people have a tendency to treat it as something exceptional.) Praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary might be a place to start if people are unfamiliar with other forms of meditation on the Passion. Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows and the Seven Sorrows of Mary might be helpful as it might be with any other suffering. Any devotions or prayer related to the Passion might be helpful. The Divine Mercy chaplet, for instance, might help the soul to focus on the Passion and the mercy of God.
Further still somebody struggling with mental illness might find Marian devotion to be helpful. Grounding oneself in the Rosary can help a person to keep himself grounded amid the chaos of life. A daily Rosary might, aside from providing plenty of graces, provide stability that might be needed in the life of somebody struggling with mental illness. Moreover Mary’s care might provide some much-needed compassion in the lives of people struggling with mental illness. People might find that they are not receiving enough compassion from the people around them, and Mary can help to bridge the gap in compassion, along with the love of God.
Marian consecration might be another helpful practice. If we become slaves of Mary in the sense of St. Louis de Montfort, we might find that the day-to-day struggles of life become more bearable because we are surrendering ourselves to God’s will with Mary – not alone but with Mary. Mary is good at surrendering herself to God – even where we are not. Even another form of Marian consecration might help us to feel greater comfort in surrender to God as we might see that we are not surrendering to God alone but with the Blessed Virgin, and if we imitate Mary, then we are surrendering to God with Mary by imitating what she does. These things might help a person who struggles from mental illness to see that holiness is attainable – something that he might have difficulty seeing – and even made easier with Mary, and they might help him to not feel alone.
It seems like emphasizing Mary as our Mother in our relationship with her might be a way of approaching Marian devotion that helps with mental illness. We can rely on her maternal care. Even if the world fails us, Mary will never fail us, and she can help us to be closer to her Son and all of the Persons of the Trinity, while helping us in all of our needs if we ask. Cultivating a devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes might be especially helpful due to her history of miraculous cures, and even if we never receive a miraculous cure, we might receive help. In addition to Our Lady, devotion to St. Dymphna might be especially helpful due to her areas of patronage (mental and nervous disorders, anxiety, and depression, for instance), and for the scrupulous and anxious, St. Alphonsus Liguori might be a helpful and supportive friend. St. Benedict Joseph Labre might also be a helpful intercessor for people suffering with mental illness. For those with Autism, St. Dymphna and St. Nicholas are patrons and can provide helpful support.
Furthermore mental prayer might be important for people with mental illness as it can help to redirect the thoughts away from things that are harmful and towards holy and sacred subjects. In addition practicing the presence of God or the prayer of recollection (the one that St. Teresa of Avila promotes) might help as well to orient the soul away from harmful things and aid the soul in not feeling lonely and abandoned. Aspiring to pray without ceasing might help the soul to feel a sense of peace – moving it away from anxieties, cares, and harmful thoughts. If we strive to live our lives with an awareness of the presence of God, it might become easier to have a sense of enduring peace. Hence these practices might be helpful for souls whose interior state is prone to chaos as people with mental illness might experience. Additionally frequent reception of Communion and Eucharistic Adoration (exposed or not) might help to cultivate union and closeness with God, as well as a sense of God’s Presence, and these things can help the soul to maintain a sense of interior recollection (awareness of the presence of God) and peace.
There is still a need to maintain a regular life of prayer to the extent that one is able, but while not making excuses, we should also be patient with ourselves when we falter and not expect too much. We should try not be discouraged and do spiritual reading. Spiritual reading will help to inform us of potential issues in the spiritual life (such as distraction and desolation), so when we encounter similar things, we will not be inclined to immediately think that there is something wrong with us or what we are doing. It seems that people with mental illness might have a tendency to think that way, so it is helpful to be informed about things like that and the Dark Night of St. John of the Cross. That might aid in preventing people from immediately jumping to conclusions that might be harmful to their spiritual lives.
Finally alongside all of this prayer, it is helpful to cultivate joy and charity. Joy and charity might help to counter many of the negative effects of mental illness and make our prayer more effective.