Others recognize that, too, which is why the nonprofit Family Counseling Center on Nov. 19 will honor Kirby at its annual Community of Hope breakfast for lending understanding to the struggle against mental illness.
"For close to 20 years, Mr. Kirby's column has brought light into some of the darker corners of our everyday lives," executive director David Loden said in announcing the award. "Through candid commentary and his willingness to use his own foibles as examples, he manages to bring awareness and compassion to sensitive issues."
Loden in particular cited an award-winning column that appeared on March 24, 2012, in which Kirby wrote about his own mental health challenges and his interaction with a friend whose son had been counseled to pray more to cope with severe depression.
"Personal trials are an inescapable part of life. They're also relative to the individual. Different people, different crosses. Nobody drags theirs the same way," Kirby wrote in the column.
Depression is the cross the young man he wrote about carries. "Your cross might be that you're too dogmatic and ignorant to recognize it. You can't help someone with their burden if your own keeps getting in the way."
According to Loden, Kirby "brilliantly addressed the ways many of us ignorantly fail to show compassion for an illness we cannot see."
He earned the Family Counseling Center award for his "ongoing candor, humor and gentle wisdom."
It's never easy to write about personal struggles for a large audience but Kirby said he knows many readers who don't have a voice also struggle with loss, mental health and addiction.
He finds his own therapeutic benefit in his work. "There's a sense that if I can capture the pain in a few hundred words, I can manage it better."
It's one thing to reveal his own struggles, Kirby said, and another to publicly delve into the pain of those closest to him.
"I've written about my wife's cancer, her faith, our children and our marriage," he said. He and his friend Sonny (whom he frequently mentions in columns) both have lost loved ones to drugs. "I let them know before I enter these dark places, because it is exposure that they didn't plan on. They've learned to trust me, and so far I haven't crossed any lines."
Readers have learned to trust, Kirby, too. When he writes about difficult topics, he knows he has an impact because he hears from many of them.
Please join those of us who work with Kirby in congratulating him on this award.
Lisa Carricaburu is managing editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @lcarricaburu.
Read the column
O Kirby's March 24, 2012, column > bit.ly/1daV0xR