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Raising awareness of mental health issues Print
Guest column
Thursday, May. 28, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Cathy Lins

Along the mental health continuum are three major mental health states in which individuals can be located at various times in their lives.

At the "healthy" end of the continuum are individuals experiencing well-being, a state of good mental and emotional health. These individuals may experience stress and discomfort resulting from occasional problems of everyday life, but they experience no impairment to daily functioning.

Mental health issues

All other individuals, for whom problems are more serious or prolonged and for whom coping become progressively more difficult, are described as having "mental health problems."

People experiencing emotional problems have mild to moderate distress and mild to temporary impairment in functioning (insomnia, lack of concentration, or loss of appetite). This may include people with situational depression, general anxiety, or mild attention deficit disorder (ADD).

People having emotional problems that rise to the level of mental illness experience marked distress and moderate to disabling or chronic impairment. It may include relatively common disorders such as depression and anxiety as well as major disorders such as schizophrenia. The distinguishing factor in mental illness is typically chronic or long-term impairments that range from moderate to disabling in nature.

Common diagnosis

Nearly everyone will know someone who has a mental illness of varying severity and length. Because of the stigma attached to it, few will come forward, but it is there.

According to the National Institute of Health, in a given year about one in four people has a diagnosable mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disease, or schizophrenia, among others. One in 17 people has a severe mental illness.

These mental health challenges encompass biological, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions of the individuals affected. These challenges also impact the lives of the person’s family.

Stigma attached

This situation is compounded by stigma attached to mental illness by others in society. Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common.

Others' judgments almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on the facts.

Due to the stigma associated with mental illness, people with mental illness and their families often feel isolated from their faith community and thus isolated from God.

Offering support

On an everyday basis, we can, as a faith community, offer spiritual comfort through our prayerful presence in people's lives by acknowledging their pain and supporting them through the healing and recovery process.

When symptoms are more severe and members find themselves in crisis, we can support them and their families through their time of crisis, and in the ensuing life with and ongoing recovery from mental illness. This might include spiritual comfort and practical support of their physical needs. The spiritual dimension is critical to the recovery process.

In justice, our advocacy is needed to address stigma and the resulting discrimination that can occur.

What parishes can do

The Council on Mental Illness, a part of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, has posted a page of new resources to help dioceses, agencies, parishes, and individuals to become more aware of the pastoral concerns of persons with mental illness and their families.

Below are some simple but effective actions parishes can take to raise awareness, educate, and help our Church be a vibrant place of welcome and support for those who are affected by mental illness.

Resources that can be found at the National Catholic Partnership on Disability website (www.ncpd.org), many in English and Spanish, include:

• Prayers of the Faithful.

• Articles on aspects of mental illness ready for inclusion in bulletins and newsletters.

• Personal stories of persons who live with mental illness and their families.

• Information on the National Catholic Network on Mental Illness.

• Links to sites with more information on mental illness.

• The story of St. Dymphna, the patron saint of persons with mental illness


Cathy Lins, Prairie du Sac, is a member of a national task force with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability-Mental Illness Section, which prepared materials for parishes to use especially during May, which is designated as Mental Health Month.