Catholic Church responds to mental health crisis across the U.S. and globally — By: Catholic News Agency

“Woman of the Well” paintings by Glenda Stevens are being distributed to each of the 15 deaneries in the Archdiocese of Phoenix. / Credit: Brett Meister/Archdiocese of Phoenix

CNA Staff, May 15, 2024 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

The percentage of U.S. adults diagnosed with depression has risen almost 10% since 2015, reaching 29% according to a 2023 Gallup poll, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that almost half of U.S. teens report experiencing persistent sadness and hopelessness. The Catholic Church is responding.

Following a 2023 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops initiative, Catholics across the country have been working in their local communities to address the mental health crisis. 

In the Archdiocese of Washington, Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar offered a May 11 Mass for people with mental health challenges.

“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 bishop said at the Mass in Landover Hills, Maryland, according to a report by the Catholic Standard.

“We Christians must encounter them, accompany them, comfort them, include them, and help bear their burdens in solidarity with them, offering our understanding, prayers, and tangible, ongoing support,” he noted. 

In Emmitsburg, Maryland, the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is hosting a Mental Wellness Retreat under the patronage of St. Dymphna, whose feast day is May 30. (Traditionally, the feast day of the young saint who is patron of the abused and mentally ill was May 15.)

Participants in the Mental Wellness Retreat at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, listen to a reflection at the shrine’s basilica. Credit: Seton Shrine

“We are hoping to reach people who live with their own mental health challenges and their loved ones,” Melissa Freymann, a clinical mental health therapist who is organizing the retreat in her role as a mental health ministry consultant for the archdiocese, told CNA

Out west, St. Patrick Catholic Community Parish in Scottsdale, Arizona, is hosting a mental health fair May 18–19 in honor of the feast of St. Dymphna.

The Diocese of Phoenix’s Office of Mental Health Ministry will attend the fair, according to The Catholic Sun. At the fair, the St. Patrick community will bless a “Woman of the Well” painting by Glenda Stevens and display it in their “House of Mercy” building. The diocese hopes to use the biblical image of the well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman as a designated place of encounter to gather and grow together. 

Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan of the Archdiocese of Phoenix presents a “Woman of the Well” painting by Glenda Stevens to Father Israel Boadi. Dolan is the chaplain of the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers. Credit: Brett Meister/Archdiocese of Phoenix

The Diocese of Phoenix also recently offered its second annual “Green Mass” on May 5 honoring and praying for professionals, caregivers, and clergy who serve people with mental health concerns. The Mass brought social workers, pastoral caregivers, and counselors together at Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral, where volunteers handed out green ribbons to represent growth and new beginnings, as well as St. Dymphna prayer cards, according to The Catholic Sun

Global outreach

Ministering to people who suffer with mental illness and those who live and care for them spans not just the U.S. but also places like the Vatican, South Africa, and India.

The India chapter of the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) organized its first ever National Mental Health conference at Nirjhari Conference Center, Carmelaram in Bengaluru, Karnataka, from April 5–6. 

More than 250 participants from all over India attended the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers’ first mental health conference in India at the Nirjhari conference center at Carmelaram in Bengaluru, Karnataka, April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM

The CMHM India worked with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s health care commission to host the retreat, which highlighted the state of mental health in India, the role of the Church in mental health ministry, and the difference between spiritual and mental health. 

More than 250 attendees, including priests, religious sisters, and medical professionals gathered for the event, and speakers included Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore; Bishop Thomas Tharayil, the ecclesiastical adviser of CMHM India; and Deacon Ed Shoener, co-founder and president of CMHM.

Deacon Ed Shoener, president and co-founder of the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM), lights a candle for the inaugural ceremony of India’s first CMHM conference April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM

Shoener helped to found CMHM to build mental health ministries in the Catholic Church in 2019 after his daughter, Katie, who struggled with bipolar disorder, died by suicide in 2016.

“The conference in India demonstrates the worldwide need for mental health ministry,” Shoener told CNA in an email.

In January, Shoener attended a Vatican mental health conference, the first of its kind. Mental health ministers from around the world, including Moldova, India, and South Africa, gathered with Vatican officials to discuss pastoral care and accompaniment.

“Regardless of cultural differences, mental illness impacts every community, and Christ wants his Church to be there to accompany people without fear or stigma,” Shoener noted.

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