By Andie Gunter
A Place for All
In October, the U.S. Bishops launched the National Catholic Mental Health Campaign. Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak, Metropolitan-Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, and Bishop Robert E. Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, are leading the campaign. They have said that the goals of the campaign are: 1) to raise greater awareness of the issue; 2) to remove the sense of stigma for those suffering from mental illness; and 3) “to advocate a clear message to all: Everyone who needs help should get help.”
Several organizations have joined in support of the campaign, including Catholic Charities USA; the National Catholic Partnership on Disability; the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul; the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry; and the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers.
Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Barron highlight the increase in depression and suicide, especially among young people. The National Institute for Mental Health says 22.8% of American adults – 57.8 million people – were classified as having a mental illness in 2021. The bishops also point out the stigma that continues to keep people from seeking help when it is needed. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says that less than half of the adults with a mental illness received mental health services in 2021.
In the Introductory Statement for the campaign, Archbishop Gudziak and Bishop Barron say, “As pastors, we want to emphasize this point to anyone who is suffering from mental illness or facing mental health challenges: nobody and nothing can alter or diminish your God-given dignity. You are a beloved child of God, a God of healing and hope…. Christ took all human suffering on himself, even mental illness. Yes, even this affliction, which perhaps seems the most absurd and incomprehensible, conforms the sick person to Christ and gives him a share in his redeeming passion.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will host virtual roundtables with bishops and Catholic leaders to discuss mental illness and to discern steps moving forward. Catholics are invited to advocate for legislation that address the lack of mental-healthcare resources.
Along with the start of the campaign, the Bishops began a Novena for Mental Health. In an introductory statement, the bishops say, “We offer this Novena – and the prayer, reflection, and action it inspires – in solidarity with those suffering from mental-health challenges and the ongoing efforts of healthcare professionals, family, friends, and caring people in the days ahead. We recognize their efforts and respond with compassion for those who are suffering.” They hope the Novena will “offer nine initial entry points for people to prayerfully approach the topic of mental health. It is our sincere hope that the Novena will inspire more prayer, reflection, and creative action to address these great challenges of our time.”
The Novena incorporates stories of saints who have been impacted by mental illness – including St. Dymphna, St. John of God and St. Teresa of Calcutta – and includes suggestions of actions to take along with each reflection. Although the Novena officially began Oct. 10, which is World Mental Health Day, Catholics can use it anytime. You can find the Novena at https://www.usccb.org/mental-health-novena.
The campaign aims to inspire a national conversation around the topic of mental health, and to mobilize the Catholic Church to respond compassionately and effectively to the mental health crisis.