A Gathering on Mental Health: Calling the community together Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Cathy Lins, Catholic Herald Correspondent   
Thursday, May. 05, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Durward’s Glen Retreat & Educational Center in Baraboo will host “A Gathering on Mental Health” for the Sauk and Columbia County communities on Friday, May 13, and Saturday, May 14.

This weekend conference is bringing in Deacon Tom Lambert, a national advocate on mental health from the Archdiocese of Chicago, and other local speakers and resources on mental health for panel discussions and breakout sessions.

Conference program

The program will help participants better understand the mental health continuum, work to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems, and share pertinent information on getting help in time of crisis.

Topics that will be covered include understanding therapy, suicide prevention, navigating the health care and social service system, understanding trauma, creating a supportive church community, information on community services, and taking care of yourself.

Participants will come away with new ideas for services and encouragement. There will also be time to reflect on the beautiful grounds of Durward’s Glen.

The event is open to all community members -- including people living with mental health challenges, their families and friends, church or agency leaders, and the general public.

Cost is $50 for registration. Limited scholarships are available. Continental breakfast and lunch on Saturday are included in the registration fee.

Deacon Tom Lambert

Deacon Tom Lambert is a member of the staff at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago. He is a founding member and current co-chair of the Archdiocesan Commission for Mental Illness, and the co-chair of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability’s Council on Mental Illness. He speaks nationally about how faith communities can get involved in outreach, advocacy, and justice issues.

He is also the father of four daughters; the oldest has a mental illness. When Deacon Lambert speaks about his experience parenting a child with mental illness in parishes around the country, people come up to him afterward, crying with stories of their own to share.

“It’s the first time they feel comfortable enough to tell that story,” he said. “Having an open conversation about mental illness is exactly what the Church needs.”

What Church and greater community needs to know

According to Deacon Lambert, “In any given year, you have one in four people affected by mental illness; and one in 17 with persistent and serious mental illness. And yet, the Church doesn’t realize this.

“We don’t pay attention to it because the magnitude of the problem is unknown to the Church. Because of the stigma attached to it, no one talks about it. There’s too much misunderstanding about what mental illness is.

“Much of the same stigma in our society is also in our parishes. I don’t really blame people who are dealing with mental illness for not coming forward.”

If someone is managing their illness well, they don’t talk about it, because there are too many risks to admitting it publicly. People fear being shunned by other members who are uncomfortable because they don’t understand.

People who have disclosed their mental illness have been discriminated against. The Church is the first place many turn to in times of crisis. The Church’s silence or rejection can feel like rejection from God; the Church should not turn away from the most vulnerable among us. It’s time to be part of the solution.

Deacon Lambert pointed out that when Churches are informed, they do a better job reaching out. It makes a big difference when bishops stand up and say this needs to be addressed by the Church. He suggested that these issues come up in common situations in our parishes, such as when someone experiences the loss of a loved one, when someone is going through a divorce, or when someone experiences postpartum depression.

Steps parishes and dioceses can take

“Education is the first step. People need information on what it is. Stigma is keeping people from getting help,” Deacon Lambert said. “Because so many don’t understand the health challenges, we don’t understand what they are going through. The person and the family feel isolated. And they stop going to church.”

He described mental illness as the “no casserole disease.” He said that for most any other health problem, parish members would check in on the family or the person to see how they are doing and bring them a casserole. But, when it’s mental illness, people don’t know what to say or do, so they say or do nothing.

He said priests and deacons don’t tend to visit people at the psychiatric hospital. He suggests that priests ask the parish member if they are okay with a visit. “If they are -- we can visit them just like anyone else.”

He shared a story about how much it meant to his own daughter that he could bring her Communion.

He pointed out that, when people are discharged from the hospital, they need help from the community that they are coming back to. “If you aren’t proactive, you’ll never see them again. They start down that path of ‘I haven’t been to church. I can’t go back now.’”

He said priests often do sick calls to the home of those who have called the office to let them know about the illness. “If a priest knows one of his parish members has depression, for instance, he has to realize that they aren’t going to call him when they are having problems. They generally aren’t well enough.”

He said, “If you don’t see them -- where are they? You call them. You go to their house. You knock on their door. You bring them Communion.”

He suggested that the Church needs to listen to people. “The most healing thing we can do is listen to them.” Deacon Lambert added, “The more we reach out to people, the more we are doing our jobs. We are creating spaces where people can come and feel safe to talk about their illness.

“As church, we don‘t have to be health professionals. We aren’t trained in that way. But we are people of faith. We pray. We bring our faith. You don’t have to be an oncologist to pray with someone who has cancer. This is no different.”

Language use is also critical. Deacon Lambert pointed out, “I hear priests, deacons, and lay people say things like ‘those crazies.’ We use words that aren’t kind. In fact, they are people first -- made in the image and likeness of God.”

The use of the label “mentally ill” is so common and is a source of frustration for Deacon Lambert. “We don’t say ‘the cancer’ when we talk about someone with cancer. We don’t say ‘the heart problem’ when we talk about someone with heart disease. But we’ll refer to someone with mental health challenges as ‘the mentally ill’.” It’s learning to not equate the illness with the person.

Provides training

Deacon Lambert leads workshops nationally, educating clergy, Religious, and laity about mental illness, and provides retreats and days of reflection for people with mental illness and their families.

He will bring his experience and knowledge to his workshops, in partnership with the other speakers for the Gathering on Mental Health, providing information on the kinds of mental illness, their symptoms, the effects of medication on them, as well as clarification on what mental illness is not.

There will be talks by people and family members living with mental illness and discussion about how the Church can help.

Visit for registration form and session descriptions or contact Cathy Lins, director at Durward’s Glen, at 608-356-8113. For more information on Deacon Lambert, contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 773-525-0453, ext. 21.

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