I go to a private Catholic school, and like every other high school, we face mental health problems. My class specifically has seen the effects of mental health issues when left untreated. It can be difficult to talk about these problems because we are at a Catholic school. It seems as though the Catholic Church has yet to take a firm stance on how to address and treat mental illnesses. For the most part, they are seen as taboo and therefore left in the dark. We are told to put our problems into God’s hands and to pray for help, but this solution doesn’t help everyone.
I read an article, by the Catholic Herald, calling on the Catholic Church to take an introspective look and evaluate how they deal with mental health. It is hard to relate the Bible to mental health, but there are some passages that tend to ring true; the Catholic Herald explained,
“For example, Psalm 88 is sometimes taken as a passage that speaks very closely to the experience of depression: You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. (Psalm 88:6-9). The psalm goes on to include the line that “darkness is my closest friend” (Ps88:18). There is nothing triumphant in those passages, but there is that expression of pain and abandonment that speaks closely to the experiences of many suffering with mental illness.”
The Bible contains wisdom about these things and preaches love regardless of differences, but somehow this gets lost in translation. If a person has some mental health problem, they are viewed as a sinner. This is where the stigma arises.
Another article, by Intermountain Catholic, told a story of assisted suicide. While the writer didn’t condone the act, she didn’t dismiss it either, she described where the fault in the procedure occurred. The story was about an older woman diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given an estimate of 5 months- 2 years to live. She lived alone and suffered from chronic pain as well as the knowledge of imminent and inevitable death. She pursued the idea of assisted suicide. Her normal doctor advised against it, but she found two other doctors to sign off for her prescription. She never met with a psychiatrist, spiritual advisor, or any other type of emotional health expert. Her son was the only person with her when she took her prescription; he was not a medical expert and would not have known what to do if a problem had arises, like if she threw up the pills. The thing is, this is completely legal. She went about this in a lawful way.
Intermountain Catholic is acknowledging the likelihood a woman in her condition might suffer from mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. The article isn’t about how the woman needed God to save her, instead, it outlines the problems in society when it comes to seeing mental health issues. The Church recognizes the reality of mental health and the role therapy and intercession by others play in facing it.
If the Church can admit to the truth of mental health issues and the effect talking about it has on those suffering, why isn’t it more widely known and believed? Pope Francis is a big proponent of acceptance and love. He embraces people from all backgrounds, not discriminating against color, religion, sexual orientation, criminal past, or mental health status. He preaches service to those in need, but more importantly, he practices it. Pope Francis leads by example, and the Church should follow.