October 8, 2021

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Bring healing to those struggling with mental illness

David Bethuram

The Church and Catholic Charities is deeply concerned with the heartbreaking prevalence of mental illness in our society. Though not as apparent and familiar as other medical problems, mental illness is equally important and is uniquely challenging.

It strikes deep within the human soul, impacting and influencing a person’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors, thereby affecting all aspects of a person’s lifework and rest, family life and relationships, prayer and relationship with God.

According to the Mental Health Association, youth mental health is worsening, with 9.7% of youths in the

U.S. suffering from severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in last year’s data. This rate was highest among youths who identify as more than one race, at 12.4%.

Even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental illness increased to 1.5 million more adults having reported suffering from a mental illness during the previous year.

For many people, mental illness represents an ongoing and lifelong burden. There is no shame in receiving a mental health diagnosis. We affirm the need for education in our communities to remove the unjust prejudice and stigma often associated with mental illness. As Catholics, we should be the first among all to witness to the truth about the dignity of every human person, so as to live in love and solidarity with our neighbor.

Everyone has something to contribute, including those without professional or expertise in mental health care.

In 2003 at an international conference hosted by the Pontifical Council for Health and Pastoral Care, St. Pope John Paul II gave an address on the theme of depression. His remarks can be applied to all those who struggle with mental illness, their loved ones and those who care for them.

He noted that depression “is always a spiritual trial.” By saying this, he was not denying that mental illness has biological or medical causes, which it does; rather, he was recognizing that mental illness also impacts our spiritual life in unique ways: “This disease is often accompanied by an existential and spiritual crisis that leads to an inability to perceive the meaning of life,” the pope said.

He went on to stress how both professionals and non-professionals, motivated by Christian charity and compassion, are called to help those with mental illness: “The role of those who care for depressed persons and who do not have a specifically therapeutic task consists above all in helping them to rediscover their self-esteem, confidence in their own abilities, interest in the future, the desire to live,” Pope John Paul II said. “It is therefore important to stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected; in a word, in which they can love and be loved.” All of us can contribute our unique gifts and talents to this important work.

Just as Christ never abandons anyone, so also should the Church never abandon those who suffer from mental illness.

I encourage all Catholics and others of goodwill to partner with Catholic Charities in this indispensable work of healing and caring for those with mental illness. You can help someone by urging them to start treatment and lead them to resources that can educate them on mental illness.

Mental health professionals will inspire them to making significant changes and find new meaning in their lives. Finding new hobbies, activities, responsibilities, and other rewarding factors in their lives can help them find joy in the little things once again. This is important because it helps to build their character and get them into a community of people who share your values. Having the right people and supporters around them can make all the difference.

Healing brings hope for those who feel lost, unwanted and struggle in their relationships. Hope restores us all.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org.)

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