May 11, 2018

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

The importance of mental health, offering support in a time of need

David BethuramPope Francis has said, “In the family, the person becomes aware of his or her own dignity and, especially if their upbringing is Christian, each one recognizes the dignity of every single person, in a particular way the sick, the weak and the marginalized.”

One in four families will at some time have to cope with mental illness and its effects on a loved one and the family. The stigma attached to mental illness forces many to hide the severity of their symptoms, or those of a loved one. Stigma is the single greatest barrier to people getting effective treatment.

May is Mental Health Month. Mental health improves the quality of our lives. When we are free of depression, anxiety, excessive stress and worry, addictions, and other psychological problems, we are more able to live our lives to the fullest.

Peace of mind is a natural condition, and is available to everyone. Mental health strengthens and supports our ability to have healthy relationships, make good choices, maintain physical health and well-being, handle the natural ups and downs of life, and discover and grow toward our potential.

According to the Mental Health Association, Indiana is ranked 48th in the nation for having a high prevalence of mental illness and low rate of access to care for both adults and youths.

For those who are on the front lines at Catholic Charities, we see that poverty increases the risk of mental health problems, and can be both a causal factor and a consequence of mental ill health.

Mental health is shaped by the wide-ranging characteristics (including inequalities) of the social, economic and physical environments in which people live. It requires Catholic Charities staff to be actively engaged in supporting the mental health and well-being of people living in poverty, and work in reducing the number of people with mental health problems from becoming poor. It is complex but rewarding.

People can and do recover from mental illness. Recovery is the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life, to be a member of a community despite the continuing challenges of living with mental illness.

The National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities (NCPD) Council on Mental Illness describes recovery as a table with four legs. All four legs must be whole, strong and firmly attached for recovery to take hold. This depends on access to help that includes the four legs of recovery.

The first is biological. Since this is an illness of the brain, good medical care and often medications are needed. The second is psychological. To ensure a lasting recovery, help is needed with understanding the effects of the disease along with assistance with the stresses of life. The third is social. The presence of friends, family, acquaintances and other meaningful relations is vital. The fourth leg is spiritual. Belief, prayer and a welcoming community of faith help the individual to know that the love and grace of God is essential and available.

Many individuals with mental illness live productive lives because when they are struggling with their mental health they have a supportive and non-judgmental Church community encouraging them.

The Church should be a place where grace and the love of God is demonstrated in a person’s time of need. The Church can care well by praying, asking the individual what he or she needs, and seeking out concrete ways to provide support, like offering meals or rides.

Although the individual may not have a desire to engage in conversation regarding their struggle, it is important for the Church to respect where they are and love them in that place.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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