A faithful response to mental health issues


By Barb Arland-Fye

Mental health support is among the pressing needs some families in our diocese identified during brainstorming sessions this spring about passing on their Catholic faith to the next generation. “As parents, we don’t always know how to manage our children’s emotions throughout different stages, like puberty,” parents at one parish said. “We don’t know how to respond to mental health issues that our children sometimes express.” Family therapy is among the items on the parents’ wish list for parish support. Parents at another parish expressed a desire for a special crisis therapy (counselor) for teens or therapist for teens.

Our desire for thriving parishes requires an approach that connects mind, body and spirit. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to pray, to study and to act on an issue that, whether or not we realize it, touches our lives or the lives of others with whom we interact.

Iowa Healthiest State Initiative defines mental illness as “treatable health conditions that can disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. They are common … and can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, religion, or income.” The Healthiest State Initiative aims to improve the physical, social and mental well-being of Iowans (iowahealthieststate.com/make-it-ok).


NAMI Iowa (National Alliance on Mental Illness) says “One in four American adults experiences an episode of mental illness per year. Individuals, both diagnosed and undiagnosed with mental illness are those around us — our neighbors, our friends, family and co-workers” (namiiowa.org).

“Despite its ubiquity, mental illness and mental health challenges often remain associated with embarrassment, shame, or guilt, which can prevent people from seeking and receiving help,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) acknowledged in a statement last fall.

“Such a stigma contradicts the compassion of Jesus and is contrary to the foundation of Catholic Social Teaching,” says the statement, which launched the National Catholic Mental Health Campaign. The campaign strives to convey to anyone suffering from mental illness or facing mental health challenges that “nobody and nothing can alter or diminish your God-given dignity. You are a beloved child of God, a God of healing and hope.” 

The campaign invites us “to advocate for bipartisan legislation and policies that address the severe lack of health care resources for prevention and treatment of mental health conditions.” Connecting Catholic collaborators who are leading the way in mental health initiatives and ministries — professionally and through pastoral accompaniment to people in parishes and communities — is another important goal.

The National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities (NCPD) is among the collaborators leading the way. NCPD says the stigma of mental illness keeps many people away from church and causes people to avoid getting effective treatment. “Leaders of a parish, diocese or other Catholic organizations can fight stigma by learning the signs of mental illness and reaching out to those living with the illness.” Check out the NCPD website (ncpd.org/disability-ministry/mental-illness), which has a Council on Mental Illness that has published “A Pastoral Response to Mental Illness” in collaboration with the USCCB.

The Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) offers free courses that will give volunteers, ministry coordinators and clergy “the skills and confidence to start and grow a mental health ministry in a parish or diocese” (catholicmhm.org)

During the first-ever Vatican workshop dedicated to mental health and pastoral care earlier this year, Bishop John Dolan of the Archdiocese of Phoenix noted a shortage of mental health professionals across the globe. Bishop Dolan, who has lost three siblings and a brother-in-law to suicide, stressed the importance of the Church in accompanying people with mental health challenges and their families. In an essay for America magazine (5-18-23), he said, “the church was the only place of comfort for me.”

Let us be the Church of comfort, compassion and hope now and for generations to come. For starters:

Get educated. Visit NAMI Iowa (namiiowa.org), National Catholic Partnership on Disability (ncpd.org/disability-ministry/mental-illness), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (samhsa.gov), National Institute of Mental Illness (nimh.nih.gov) and Make It OK (makeitok.org/IOWA/), National Catholic Mental Health Campaign (https://tinyurl.com/yjfwsxpv) and Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers (catholicmhm.org).

Advocate. The Iowa Legislature plans to revamp Iowa’s behavioral health system, according to the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC). Reaction has been generally positive, but concerns have been raised about funding levels and inpatient care, among other things. Follow The Catholic Messenger and ICC (iowacatholicconference.org) for updates.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. En Español, call 1-888-628-9454. Other options: Farm Aid Support Line at 800-FARM-AID (1-800-327-6243), Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255).

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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