A Cape Elizabeth woman whose memoirs pulled back a veil of secrecy to reveal the toll mental illness has had on an iconic American family was honored for her work Thursday night during a ceremony in Kennebunk.

Millicent Monks received the 2011 Rev. Robert M. Howes Visionary Award from Counseling Services Inc. Howes, the retired pastor of South Congregational Church in Kennebunkport, founded CSI in 1963.

About 170 people attended the event held at the River Tree Center for the Arts in Kennebunk.

The award, which is the mental health organization’s highest honor, will be presented annually to someone who has made a significant contribution to advancing community mental health programs in Maine.

Monks’ great-grandfather was the brother of industrialist Andrew Carnegie. She is the author of a new memoir, “Songs of Three Islands,” which details her family’s multigenerational struggle with mental illness.

“Songs of Three Islands” was published in June by Atlas & Co.

For many years, Monks and her husband, Robert, have lived in Cape Elizabeth in a family compound that includes many homes and dozens of immediate and extended family members.

Despite its enormous fortune stemming from Andrew Carnegie’s steel and other companies, the family has experienced many tragedies, the result of mental illness that has been passed from one generation to another.

Dr. Vernon Moore, president of CSI’s board of directors, presented the award to Monks.

Moore said Monks was an excellent candidate for the award. He praised her for having the courage to come out publicly about her family’s private struggle, and to use her stature to promote acceptance and understanding of mental illness.

During an interview with the Maine Sunday Telegram last August, Monks said, “We need to get over the shame. What we also need to do is share with each other, because we just don’t. People just don’t talk about it.”

All proceeds from Thursday’s event, which featured a silent auction of original arts and crafts as well as merchandise and gift certificates from Maine artists and businesses, will go to support CSI’s mental health programs.

Biddeford Savings was the event’s lead sponsor. Other major sponsors included Maine Mental Health Partners and the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.