The Church undoubtedly nurtures its members’ spiritual health. With Jesus as its Divine Physician, a person’s mental health matters too.
That’s something Catholics in some circles are seeing more publicly, even if May wasn’t Mental Health Awareness Month. The Notre Dame Preparatory community began discussions about anxiety March 27. It’s a catch-all term for emotion that is characterized by feelings of worry, fear, nervousness and apprehension.
Therapist tells young adults how to conquer anxiety (CatholicPhilly.com)
Healthy levels of each are expected as part of life but can be debilitating to the point it disrupts normal functions. Or leads to suicidal thoughts or plans. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health complaint in the U.S. Notre Dame learned about them from countless youth, experts and parents who shared their stories in “Angst,” a short 2017 documentary. Parents had the chance to view it first followed by students the next day.
A Catholic elementary school in Georgia and another in California showed it March 27 too. Nationwide, the movie’s website listed six Catholic school screenings in April and at least two in May including an elementary school in Ontario, Canada. The Mental Health Coalition Verde Valley showed it May 13 with the Diocese of San Jose’s Mental Health Ministries, Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, a Chicago parish center and the Martin de Porres Center in Ohio also holding May screenings.
“It’s very inspirational and moving,” Notre Dame principal Jill Platt told parents before the screening. “What I hope it brings to our students is the feeling that they’re not alone.”
School counselors and the campus behavior specialist reminded parents they’re there for the entire student, mind soul and body. Visiting them for a quiet space to work is okay too, even if they don’t want to talk.
Fr. Kurt Perera, chaplain, drew parallels to the film’s tips and what the Church already offers, namely the role of silence and the importance of talking to someone.
“Prayer is a conversation with God,” Fr. Perera said. “He is a light which brings forth peace, joy, love.” The Church leads the way with encouragement to reach out, too. Fr. Perera said the most repeated phrase in the Bible is “Do not be afraid.”
That’s a vital message Luke Maxwell shares. Prayer, Adoration and more can be good, but cautions Catholics against limiting themselves to one method of healing when it comes to mental health. “This is a problem with your brain chemistry. This is one thing really important for the Church to understand.”
Maxwell, a once suicidal teen and now young adult sharing his story and warning signs with the masses via “U Can’t B Erased,” was part of the board that formed mental health groups in almost one-fourth of the parishes in the San Diego Diocese. Some 400 people attended the kickoff, receiving training in warning signs and resources to offer those who need it.
“It’s an all-around beneficial thing. We’ve seen some really great things come out of it,” Maxwell said.
The Diocese of Phoenix Office of Child and Youth Protection also supports Catholic individuals and groups with suicide prevention education, trauma-informed care and awareness regarding domestic violence and human trafficking.
Office of Child and Youth Protection has partnered with Mental Health First Aid over the years to offer training to parish and school employees who are not counselors. The latest one was held in February. The youth portion taught parents, teachers, school staff, neighbors and others how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or is in crisis. It identified common mental health challenges, reviewed adolescent development and taught a five-step action plan on how to help youth in crisis and non-crisis situations.
The Office of Child and Youth Protection also supports Catholic individuals and groups with suicide prevention education, trauma-informed care and awareness regarding domestic violence and human trafficking.
“We have provided different workshops throughout the year to educate our community, especially those who serve the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Dr. Anne Vargas-Leveriza, director. “We have done talks on suicide prevention. We have invited different speakers who have helped our communities to be better equipped in dealing with those who suffer from mental illness.”
The office also acts as a consultant on crisis situations both for the school and parish.
The author of “The Catholic Guide to Depression” calls depression the “no casserole disease” because if someone recognizes signs of a mental illness, that person simply may not know how to help.
Groups like the parish-level ones in San Diego can help. Event promotional material said San Diego County could expect 18,000 youth to develop a mental disorder every year.
A video project in its infancy in the Diocese of Phoenix aims to approach the culture of despair. The spike in suicide rates is mentioned. Details are forthcoming.
There were 1,304 suicides reported in 2017 across all ages — the eighth leading cause of death (and broken down by area here) — according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. That’s almost 50 more than in 2016 and reflects a small but continued increase since 2012. Arizonans have seen four-digit data since 2009. A 2018 state plan details 13 goals to end suicide in Arizona.
Teenagers at St. Benedict in Ahwatukee and their parents get educated every year about mental health awareness. Youth minister David Rees, who struggled with depression when he was in junior high at the same parish, tells the teens, “If this isn’t you, I’m so happy for you, but it’s probably someone you know.” There have been six teen suicides from the parish’s “feeder” high schools since 2013.
Some St. Benedict teens have called Arizona’s Teen Lifeline when they’re feeling suicidal or expressing other big emotions. Another is interested in helping staff the peer part of the line staffed 3-9 p.m. daily. Teen Lifeline’s annual report
“The biggest thing is to ask, ‘How are you doing?’ — to be slow and intentional with that,” which Rees said could mean asking repeatedly to show someone it’s okay to move beyond cordial greetings with the answer.
He encourages parents to ask teens to tell them what’s going through their heads. “There’s this moment of vulnerability when that happens.” It’s not that those who attempt suicide truly want to end their lives, Rees said, “They just want those [negative] feelings to go away.”
Students at Brophy College Preparatory and others statewide always have Teen Lifeline resources for mental health at their fingertips. Its logo and contact information are the only things on the back of school ID cards as of this school year.
Brophy students also have regular “Stop the Stigma” efforts alongside Xavier College Preparatory, which aims to get mental health awareness and help as something students are comfortable discussing and seeking when needed. Rodolfo Leveriza, a senior, also shared his struggles with mental health alongside warning signs from the Yellow Ribbon program and ideas for stress relief and coping methods during Brophy’s Summit on Human Dignity in February. This year’s topic was “The Search for Health: Dignifying the Mindy Body and Spirit.”
“In general, we’re trying to normalize the conversation,” Leveriza said.
‘Angst’ film’s resources (FAQs, therapists, apps, videos, articles, books, sites)
Catholic Institute for Mental Health Ministry
#MentalIllnessFeelsLike and FAQs
Anxiety symptoms not talked about enough
Books: ‘The Spiritual Side of Suicide’ and ‘Bruised and Wounded: Struggling to Understand Suicide’
Archdiocese of San Francisco to organize network of mental health resources