Faithful can shine light on mental health


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Mental health isn’t just about “those people over there.” In fact, just about everyone at some point in their lives will experience mental health challenges.

At any given time, one in four families is affected by mental illness, yet stigma and lack of understanding often prevent them from coming forward to get the help they need.

Since 1949, May has been designated “Mental Health Awareness Month.” For those of us in the Church, this month presents an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to bringing Christ to families experiencing mental illness.

A patron saint
May 15 is the feast day of St. Dymphna, the patron saint of those afflicted with mental illness.

Dymphna was born in seventh-century Ireland to a pagan king and his Christian wife. After Dymphna’s mother died, her father recognized her resemblance to his late wife and wanted to marry her. She fled to the town of Geel in Belgium, where she devoted herself to caring for the mentally ill, until she was martyred at the hands of her father.

To this day, Geel is known for its welcoming embrace of individuals and families affected by mental illness.

A legacy of accompaniment
The Church has spoken frequently about the importance of mental health and accompanying those in need.

Recent popes have shown compassion for people who live with mental illness and a deepening understanding of the psychology and underlying causes of mental illnesses. For example, Pope Francis has a monthly prayer for mental health and has supported mental health ministry.

In California, our own bishops in 2018 issued “Hope and Healing,” a pastoral letter on caring for those who suffer from mental illness. “Just as Christ never abandons anyone,” the document says, “so also the Church never abandons those who suffer from mental illness.”

Former Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan, now the bishop of Phoenix, has been a catalyst in equipping the Church to respond to suicide by sharing how the deaths of siblings from suicide have affected him. He co-authored a book titled “When a Loved One Dies by Suicide: Comfort, Hope, and Healing for Grieving Catholics.”

In recent years, the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers has been harnessed to support and equip parishes and dioceses in the field of mental health ministry.

How can we help?
As Catholics, we can educate ourselves by learning more about the psychology of mental illness, as well as what the Church says about this issue. This can help reduce the stigma and create the space for people to be more honest about their struggles.

As Pope Francis reminds us, our parishes are “hospitals for (the sick).” And that includes the mentally ill.

Most of us aren’t in the business of diagnosis; but the more we know, the better we can refer people who may be struggling. For example, we can learn QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) to better respond to individuals and friends who may be showing signs of suicidality.

Spiritual growth also does not preclude a person from struggling with their own mental health. Some of the greatest saints in Church history have been pretty frank about their mental health struggles, including St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John of the Cross, St. Benedict Joseph Labre, and St. Louis Martin.

What can parishes do?
Every parish can get involved, even if they don’t have a formal “mental health ministry.” Parishes can evaluate their efforts from the perspective of three pillars: accompaniment, education and referral.

Here are some easy ways to get started this May:

-Include blurbs about mental health in the bulletin from time-to-time.

-Include occasional prayers in the General Intercessions for individuals and families struggling with mental illness.

-Promote a local faith-based mental health course or Mental Health First Aid course.

-Make sure that the parish has a process for making referrals.

-Start getting to know local Catholic therapists or other community resources.

-Arrange a training to better equip parish leaders to respond to mental health needs. Ideas include QPR trainings, which can be arranged for free through the County of San Diego’s Suicide Prevention Council; seminars for parents on youth mental health; and trainings for hospitality ministers on how to respond to crisis situations.

For more information about mental health ministry in the diocese, please visit

John Prust is director of the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality.

Special Mass celebrates mental health
SAN DIEGO — The Diocese of San Diego’s annual Mental Health Awareness Mass will be celebrated at 5 p.m., Saturday, May 25, at St. Michael Parish in Paradise Hills.

Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano will be the main celebrant.

A mental health resource fair will follow the Mass.

St. Michael Church is located at 2643 Homedale St., San Diego 92139.

For more information, visit, call (858) 490-8256 or email

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