How to Pray About Mental Illness When You Can’t Find the Words

Last year I suggested that one way the church can stop hiding mental illness is by recognizing that the Bible includes stories of people with mental illness: like King Saul, King Nebuchadnezzar, the man living among the tombs, and others. This year, my congregation again set aside one Sunday for mental health awareness, this time featuring story-telling, art and poetry. It was a wonderful first Sunday back from my study leave.

At the same time, I know that since mental illness doesn’t confine itself to one Sunday a year, our mental health awareness needs to be bigger than that too. So in my pastoral prayers on Sunday mornings, when I pray for those dealing with illness, I include both “physical and mental illness.” In my Pentecost meditation yesterday, I noted that for those who are not well physically or mentally, an over-emphasis on doing and getting things done can be an added burden of guilt that makes their illness worse. These and other deliberate ways of including mental health and illness can help to build awareness year round.

When praying for people with mental illness, when I can’t find the words, I often pray in silence, imagining each person wrapped in light and in God’s love. I sometimes say their names out loud, or use a simple phrase, like Lord Jesus, have mercy on ________. I sometimes read personal psalms of lament on their behalf, like Psalm 5:1-3:

O Lord, hear me as I pray;
    pay attention to my groaning.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
    for I pray to no one but you.
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
    Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.

Or Psalm 22:1-2, 19:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.
. . . . O Lord, do not stay far away!
    You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!

I also find myself turning to the words of others, and have found the following helpful resources. For each of the following 9 prayers, I’ve excerpted just a few lines, so please click through for the whole prayer, although some links are no longer live and have been removed.

1. God of All Comfort: Mental Health Worship Resource:

Forgiving God,
We confess that we have judged those who struggle with mental illness.
We have judged because we do not understand.
Forgive us for making assumptions. Forgive us for our indifference.
Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

2. Mental Health Ministries:

Comfort and relieve those who are troubled in mind and spirit.
Bring them hope, peace and the consolation of a loving community.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Grant patience and courage to the families and friends of those who are ill.
Increase their perseverance as they face challenges to recovery for their loved one.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Protect and defend those living with mental illness from exploitation, addictions and abuse.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

3. Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church:

For those of us who suffer from some form of mental illness, we seek your presence in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. 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.

4. Mental Health Matters, Church of England:

Tender God, Your gentle and kind-hearted love waits for us in the darkness and shields us from the light when it feels too overwhelming. We remember today all those who live in the depths of depression. Continue to cherish us all when we find it so difficult to cherish ourselves.

5. A Prayer for Mental Health:

Comfort those who live with the darkness of depression. May we be a light in the darkness for them. Teach us to avoid false cheerfulness, and instead give us wisdom to know how to help our friends and family who struggle in this way to come up for air. To see, again, your goodness. Lord, watch over those who are, even now, contemplating suicide. Stop their hands. Send someone to intervene.

6. A Prayer for Those Contemplating Suicide:

for those feeling unwanted and unloved,
for those who can love everyone but themselves,
for those who feel that the world would be better off without them,
Creator of us all, hear our prayer.
Send your rainbow of hope
arching over these dark moments. . . .
Your presence a bridge to one more day.

7. Catholic Health Association of the United States:

Loving God, You are always near to us, especially when we are weak, suffering and vulnerable. Reach out to those who experience mental illness. Lift their burdens, calm their anxiety, and quiet their fears. Surround them with your healing presence that they may know that they are not alone.

8. Prayer on the Theme of Mental Health:

O God, who has so faithfully cared for me in the past, and so often seen me through to safety:
Grant me that in moments of depression, desolation, failure and despair,
I may look back in gratitude. . . .

9. My Mental Illness and Christian Faith:

Have mercy on us, those who suffer from mental illness.
Please bring us comfort during our darkest hours and free us from confusion and emptiness.
Help us cling to You, Lord, when symptoms take over our very being.
We pray that Your Holy Spirit residing deep within us awakens our hearts and minds.

Photo by Lois Siemens, used with permission.
Photo by Lois Siemens, used with permission.

Prompt for Writing and/or Reflection: How do you pray for people living with mental illness–for yourself or others, for family members and other caregivers? What words, phrases, or Scripture verses do you find helpful?


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19 thoughts on “How to Pray About Mental Illness When You Can’t Find the Words

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Stacey. Good mental health worship resources are always welcome.I didn’t see your liturgy when it was first published, so I appreciate your highlighting it here Thanks!

  1. Excellent could sense and feel the sincerity in these prayers. May you continue to touch those that are fighting with mental illnesses. Jesus give us Insight please Lord

  2. Thank you for providing such helpful and touching prayers that comfort and strengthen my soul. God Bless you!

  3. Lovely, thank you. I feel better for reading these aloud over my son and for others I don’t know facing mental problems. Love to you and may God bless you abundantly. K

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