Struggling with mental illness?
Sister Kathryn James Hermes, author of Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach (Pauline Books & Media), offers some practical suggestions for dealing with mental illness:
- Find a spiritual director or "soul friend" to talk with and one priest to confess to regularly so that you have people who know your background and history.
- In addition, seek professional help from a therapist or psychologist.
- Listen to Christian music as an accessible way to hear scripture.
- Put a prayer card under your pillow or in your wallet.
- Don't be afraid to turn to family and friends for help.
- Look for support groups and organizations such as NAMI for those with mental illness.
Know a church member with a mental illness?
Here are practical ways clergy and the average Catholic can relate to those with a mental illness:
- Educate yourself by reading up on mental illness. Therese Borchard suggests online sources such as psychcentral.com, MentalHealth.org, and NAMI.org.
- Use inclusive language. Don't call a person with a mental disorder a "mentally ill person" just as you wouldn't call someone with cancer a "cancerous person."
- Be accepting. Connie Rakitan says churchgoers need to realize that people with mental illness might sing a little louder, mumble to themselves, or exhibit other unusual behavior at Mass.
- Try to be more tolerant of them.
- Reach out to people you know are struggling with a disorder, perhaps during coffee hour after Mass or other parish social activities.
- Ask that special Prayers of the Faithful for those with mental illness be incorporated into the usual intentions.
- Look up the local support groups, hotlines, and other resources to which you can refer people looking for help with mental illness.
Consider dedicating at least one homily a year to mental
- Provide brochures and literature at your parish on mental illness from NAMI and similar groups.
More links and resources
There are many resources available to Catholics with mental illness and their families who are seeking a spiritual outlet for their experiences.
The National Catholic Partnership on Disability has online resources such as past webinars, upcoming events, and organization links.
The Archdiocese of Chicago's Mental Illness Ministries has links to online resources and a downloadable "Mental Illness and Parish Outreach" booklet.
Pathways to Promise is an interfaith organization that acts as a resource center for faith communities regarding mental illness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness's FaithNet lists consumer and family support groups across the country.
Faith in Recovery is a nondenominational faith organization started by a Catholic nun to encourage small mental illness support communities. The site includes a downloadable toolkit.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has resources for Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine promotes drug abuse prevention and treatment.
AddictionResource.com raises awareness on the dangers of addiction and helps local communities stay drug-free.
Protect Us from All Anxiety: Meditations for the Depressed (Solace for Survivors) by Father William Burke
God Is Close to the Brokenhearted: Good News for Those Who Are Depressed by Rachel Callahan and Rea McDonnell
Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression and Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes by Therese Borchard
This article accompanied "Through a glass darkly: How Catholics struggle with mental illness," which appeared in the February 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 2, pages 12-17).
Image: Tom Wright