SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNS) -- California's Catholic bishops
issued a pastoral letter outlining ways the church could do a better job of
serving those who struggle with mental illness, stressing that it is an "essential
part of the pastoral care of the church."
letter, "Hope and Healing," was published in English, Spanish and
Vietnamese online on the website of the California Catholic Conference, the
public policy arm of the state's bishops, May 1, the start of the Mental
Health Awareness Month.
all Catholics are "called to provide hope and healing to others" and
in recognizing that every human life is sacred, they should not only "attend
to those in our midst who suffer in body or mind" but also work with
families, mental health professionals, community organizations and all
individuals and institutions engaged in such work.
bishops pointed out that often people with mental illness suffer in silence in
contrast with those who have a medical illness and usually receive an
outpouring of sympathy and support from their parish and community.
should not be so in our civic communities and cannot be so in our Catholic
communities. Those living with a mental illness should never bear these burdens
alone, nor should their families who struggle heroically to assist their loved
ones," the letter said, emphasizing that Christians must "encounter
them, accompany them, comfort them and help bear their burdens in solidarity
with them -- offering our understanding, prayers and tangible and ongoing
California bishops also identified the scope and burden of mental illness today, noting
that the National Institute of Mental Health says one in five adults in the
U.S. suffered from a mental disorder over the last year and nearly 10 million
American adults -- about one in 25 -- have a mental illness that is severe enough to
cause serious functional impairment. And 20 percent of adolescents currently
have, or previously had, a seriously debilitating mental disorder, according to the institute.
out the increase of depression and anxiety for young people, the rise in
suicides from men and women in nearly every age group, the number of drug
overdoses and alcohol-related death, and the current opioid crisis.
note that the nation's jails and homeless populations are filled with people
suffering from mental illness, which they called "unacceptable."
crises of our time represent an urgent call to all Catholics. We must
respond," the bishop letter said.
response is not to stigmatize or judge those suffering a mental illness because
it is "neither a moral failure nor a character defect" nor a "sign
of insufficient faith or weakness of will."
bishops also noted that Christian faith and religious practice "do not
immunize a person against mental illness" noting that leaders and even saints
"suffered from mental disorders or severe psychological wounds."
suffering produced by mental illness is something that Catholics should have a distinctive
understanding about, knowing that Catholics are not promised freedom from suffering
or affliction and that spiritual practices "will not cure mental disorders
or alleviate all emotional suffering," the bishops said.
needed to improve mental health care, the bishops said, is cooperation from
church members and leaders, health care professionals and scientific
to those who say psychiatry or clinical psychology are not compatible with
Catholic faith, the bishops said discernment is necessary and that "good
science that recognizes the life and dignity of people and the Catholic faith
are never at odds." They also pointed out that "medical science has discovered
many useful treatments to help those with mental illness, and Catholics should
welcome and make use of these -- including medications, psychotherapy and other
the same time, Catholics struggling with mental illness or helping those with
this should not "neglect the role of pastoral care and spiritual
direction." The bishops note that the sacramental life of the church can
"provide grace and spiritual strength."
also acknowledged the increasing amount of medical research demonstrating health
benefits of prayer and meditation, religious worship, active participation in
faith-based activities, groups and communities, and cultivating Christian
virtues like gratitude and forgiveness.
spiritual practices -- while they do not entirely prevent or cure mental
illness -- can reduce the risk of mental health problems and can assist in
recovery. Modern medicine is rediscovering that there is a deep connection
between the body and the soul: What affects the one has profound effects on the
other," they added.
-- also provides links to resources and programs that serve as models for parishes
and communities which the bishops describe as "a good starting point."
stressed that Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics "not to remain securely
behind the doors of our parishes, but to reach out to everyone, especially those
who are marginalized and forgotten" -- a call that must include people who
suffer from severe and persistent mental illnesses. "For them, our
communities and parishes should be places of refuge and healing, not places of
rejection or judgment," the bishops said.
also said that outreach should be proactive rather than reactive and should
make sure that those who need help are also resources for others.
solution is simply to get to know or befriend those struggling with mental
illness, to listen to them, walk with them or pray with them.
is a powerful source of healing and peace. Some parishes are teaching teams of
people in their parishes to be available to pray with people: It can make a
great difference when we move from praying for people to praying with
them," the letter says.
bishops said families who have experienced a suicide of a loved one also need
help from their Catholic communities. They said the church "teaches that
suicide is contrary to the will of God who gave us life,"
but at the same time it recognizes in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
that "grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of
hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one
also said those who lose a loved one to suicide need particular care and
attention, often for considerable periods of time. "Catholics must convey
to them that we are not afraid to open this difficult conversation, that they
need not feel ashamed to discuss their profound anguish and loss," and parishioners
and leaders must be "willing to walk this long road with suicide
survivors, to help console them with our unconditional friendship and with
sensitive pastoral care."
ends with a message of hope saying the church "never abandons those who
suffer from mental illness" and that in eternity with God "every
beautiful thing in our lives that is now unfinished will be completed, all the
good that is scattered will be gathered together, everything that is lost will
be found, all hopes that are now thwarted will be realized and all that is
broken will finally be restored."