I think that most of us have wrestled with mental health issues at times, whether it was depression, anxiety or some other emotional burden, and we certainly know loved ones and friends who have struggled with issues around mental health. My own paternal grandmother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when my father was a young boy, and she ended up living in a mental hospital for almost three decades. I know that it took my father many years to process the trauma that this occasioned in his life.
It seems that more people are struggling with their mental health. It is estimated that one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (roughly 57.8 million people). A recent Centers for Disease Control study estimates that 42% of high school students say they’ve experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and 22% have seriously considered suicide. If this isn’t worrisome enough, I was shocked to learn that among rural communities in the U.S. the suicide rate is two-and-a-half to three times higher than the national rate.
As a diocese, we are in the beginning stages of developing a Mental Health Ministry for the Diocese of St. Cloud. The MHM team was formed last year in response to mental health needs and questions surfacing around the diocese. JoAnn Braegelman, one of Catholic Charities’ rural life coordinators, convened the team in light of the needs that she and others were hearing about:
- Pastors needing resources to respond to people coming to them with mental health concerns and emergencies.
- Parishes looking for resources to address issues ranging from suicide prevention to mental health education to wellness efforts.
- Schools looking for assistance to address mental health issues.
- Families and caregivers in need of good information, accompaniment and resources.
Among the goals of the team are to:
- Create a webpage of resources accessible to all from a Christ-centered perspective.
- Promote of mental health awareness training and education opportunities.
- Educate the public about mental health issues and removing the stigma that often surrounds them.
The team also has been working with the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers as a resource.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I invite those of you reading this to keep our diocesan initiative in your heart at prayer. It has the potential to bring much-needed mental health resources to those who will need them.
Yours in Christ,
+Bishop Patrick M. Neary, C.S.C., the 10th bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota.