“Among the many ministries entrusted to our parishes, the first priority is to assist families to live as domestic churches…Parishes also need to do everything possible, within their limits, to ensure that struggling families are being cared for” – Unleash the Gospel, Marker 7.1
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a heightened awareness of mental illness and how life stressors can escalate mental health struggles. When individuals struggle with mental health and addictions this has a radiating impact on spouses, parents, and children that make up the domestic church.
What is mental illness?
Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses can be associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.
Mental illness is common. In a given year:
Nearly one in five (19%) U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness.
One in 24 (4.1%) has a serious mental illness.
One in 12 (8.5%) has a diagnosable substance use disorder. (APA)
What is mental health?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act, and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.
Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. If you’ve experienced mental health problems throughout your life, your thinking, mood and behavior could be affected to varying degrees of impairment. (SAMHSA)
The role of the parish community in accompanying and assisting those struggling with mental health
Clergy and parish staff will inevitably encounter individuals and families struggling with an array of mental health concerns. Being knowledgeable and equipped to provide mental health resources and support for the whole person is a vital spiritual accompaniment for people experiencing mental health challenges and mental illness.
Depending on what the Families of Parishes discerns as a beginning point to offer mental health ministry (versus professional mental health intervention) they can scale according to the vision and energy they feel called to develop such a ministry.
Catholic resources for starting a parish mental health ministry
These are resources that can assist Families of Parishes in developing a mental health ministry as first responders to individuals and families that present with a need for support and resources.
Dcn. Ed Shoener of the Diocese of Scranton, PA is a founding member and president of the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers and has produced an array of resources to support Catholic parishes in establishing mental health ministries. These links offer an overview of how to start a mental health ministry in your parish: How to Start A Mental Health Ministry in Your Parish Community | Start a Parish Mental Health Ministry.
Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries is a Catholic mental health ministry that seeks to equip the Church to support mental health and wellbeing. They offer The Sanctuary Course for Catholics which is a study guide for small groups designed to raise awareness and start conversations in local churches regarding mental health. The Sanctuary Course for Catholics is also available on formed.org in English and Spanish.
Compass for Parents is a comprehensive database resource developed by the Archdiocese of Detroit, Office of Family Ministry, that aims to anticipate the needs of Catholic parents, accompany them through the trials and joys of family life and point them to faithful answers to life's difficult questions, including questions surrounding mental health. Compass will soon offer training to parish leaders to present workshops for parents on how to nurture healthy communication with their children at any age. To promote Compass in your parish, click here to download graphics and flyers for your parish bulletin, social media or website. To learn more about offering a parent workshop, contact [email protected].