Skip to comments.Catholics and Mental Illness: Are We Doing Enough?
Posted on 03/08/2013 6:13:31 AM PST by Alex Murphy
Research tends to show that Christiansespecially pastors struggle to know how to support those struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. Catholics tend to fare a little better than evangelicals in this regard (because we tend to be less suspicious of psychotherapy), but it tends to be a mixed bag.
Last week, I asked readers who were struggling with depression, anxiety, or other emotional issues to share their experiences with receiving support from the Church and I want to offer my thanks to all whove written so far. One persons email really stood out. I asked her permission to share her thoughts with you anonymously. Here are her reflections.
I saw your post on your blog about seeking help in the Church when you have a mental illness. I have been a Catholic since 2006 and in 2011 was diagnosed with OCD. A new confessor who had heard about 4 of my confessions sent me to a psychiatrist because we were well into major scruples. He is now my spiritual director and main confessor. He has been incredibly supportive in making sure I got help (psychiatrist + therapist) and keeping me going in terms of scruples (such as only allowing me one confession a month vs. every two weeks, telling me to receive Holy Eucharist if Im not sure if Im in a state of grace, etc).
I have had priests at other parishes in the past say you sound as if you have OCD but always in that flippant way. My SD had said you sound as if you have OCD and I want you to go to a psychiatrist ASAP.
My parish as a whole has awareness of mental illness, one of our Lenten service projects this year is for the local chapter of NAMI. Each year the parish has a group that participates in the NAMI Walk, which our Monsignor participates in (I believe).
Catholics in the pews tend to be very silent about mental illness and at times it is awkward. I have told a few people about my OCD and have had mostly brush-off reactions or a frustration when I get caught up in compulsions. I think there is a lot ignorance in the pews, with the standard you need more faith/prayer/etc or I thought good Catholics didnt get depressed. (yes, Ive heard that which blows my mind!). I have had to drop out of a mothers prayer group because of OCD and have felt as if the group appreciates that Im gone. The people who I had counted on for support have done the exact opposite. Thus I feel as if I cant ever tell more people as the majority act as if Im contagious or not faithful enough.
All the priests at my parish know of my OCD and are incredibly supportive, cheering me on as I work my way through therapy. The people in the pews, not so much.
What is your experience of being a Catholic struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental/emotional health challenges?
IMHO, “therapists” and psychological “help” are inspired by Godless science or satan (as opposed to science) and should be avoided at all costs.
The problem is usually a spiritual one, an invasion by spiritual cold and seeing one’s confessor or priest may be better (depending on whether the priest is truly Godly).
And hence why those “in the pew” have no sympathy for the mentally ill. So sad.
How did you get there? I do feel sorry for the mentally ill, I encounter them daily and have them in my family too. It is very sad and I sympathize and empathize, wouldn’t send them to a witch doctor however.
So, you just need an exorcism if you have mental illness and all will be well? Riiiight.
“success” for the therapist in ripping off your insurance company
well, smarty pants, let’s start with reading the Bible and following the pattern for living contained in it, a lot of things will be worked out.
He has been incredibly supportive in making sure I got help (psychiatrist + therapist) and keeping me going in terms of scruples (such as only allowing me one confession a month vs. every two weeks, telling me to receive Holy Eucharist if Im not sure if Im in a state of grace, etc).If you're going to be obsessive about something, it might as well be confession (in addition to daily mass, recitation of the rosary, adoration). On different Catholic forums, the consensus is that once a week reconciliation is good if you wish to (or need to) go that often. There were popes that went every day.
IMHO, you should stick to prayer discussions and never ever mention a scienticfic topic again. In 2007, I awoke having a stroke. Came out of it about a good as could ever be expected physically. The toughest has been the depression I was left with. I'll admit that I didn't take the warnings about it seriously, because i like most felt it was just a matter of getting your ass up and working your day.
I was never so wrong about anything. For two years I battled this BS and almost ruined my life with stupid destructive behaviours. Only finding the right meds has helped. A mear 35 mg tablet of Venlafaxine (Effexor) has saved my life. In less than one hr of first dose I new I had found the answer.Its been like nothing I could describe well enough, simply amazing to me. its all about the brain chemistry altered by injury, genetics, bad luck or whatever, ITs completely real and no amount of prayer or genuflection to religous establishments will change a thing. its about the science from the beginning to the end.
Just wait, you are taking brain medicine and you better never miss a dose or you will think you are dying.....
The Church is there to lead people to Christ and His saving Grace via the Cross, and to worship God regularly.
To imply that the Priests and/or Church elders should somehow be able to correctly identify a physical mental illness and provide medical advice is not only unfair but (IMO) an attempt to force them into dangerous legal waters. Not to mention tarnish the Church s reputation for consistent generous charity work worldwide.
So-called mental health ‘professionals’ have a hard time with the identification and treatment of mental illness, how can those ‘in the pew’ be expected to respond ‘correctly’?
Pursuing this can only lead to discord amongst the faithful and will never yield satisfactory results to the secular. I question the intentions of Dr. Greg.
I’m with you. The brain’s chemical problems can cause emotional and thinking problems. Solve them, and then one has a fighting chance to work on living by Biblical principles the same way other people do.
Our pastor tells us that having faith in Jesus Christ will relieve us of all fear and anxiety.
SOOOOOO 19th. Century, I know.
She wasn’t Catholic but a woman who died recently was OCD, she was my friend’s mother and I remember how she got up at 4AM to thouroughly clean the house, went to work and came home and thouroughly cleaned the house again, I mean cabinets, vacuum, dust like a good weekly cleaning.
My friend grew up and became just like her mother, it took many years before we realized that she was OCD.
When the mother developed Alzheimer’s the OCD just turned glaring! She would wash her face so many times a day that it was raw and bleeding. It made her even angrier than your average Alzheimer patient. They finally put her in assisted living and paid for additional caretakers 24/7.
My own mother who was never diagnosed was a bi polar narcissist. It wasn’t so bad until my brother died and she went off the deep end, life was a precarious tightrope walk after that. She also had Alzheimer’s and really got kind of placid but she could still get mad and when she did she would run away so you had to be very aware of her moods.
I do believe it is genetic rather nurture because I have a niece and a cousin who are at times debilitatingly bipolar. Like my mother, my niece was up and down until a policeman was shot and she held him as he died. It was actully me who diagnosed her and asked her to go get help. She didn’t and ended up being hospitalized.
The most basic thing is that a lot of therapy is more of an art than a science. We really don't know why some people have things that OCD or why some are more prone to addictive behavior than others.
There are treatments that do work, but the “unseen hand” will focus on long term cash flow rather than curing.
This is a serious problem, and absolutely must have some competent medical advice in the background, both for any mental illness, but perhaps even more importantly, for the very dangerous (even fatal) underlying diseases that might be *causing* mental illness.
The most common mental illness is depression. For those over the age of 50 who develop depression, it is essential that they have a blood test to determine thyroid hormone levels. For years, many older people were even thought to be senile and institutionalized, but their condition was completely reversed by just taking a single tiny thyroid hormone pill a day.
Pernicious anemia is the inability to absorb vitamin B-12 from your food. Severe cases turned people, mostly women, into incoherent, violent raving maniacs who had to be straight-jacketed and chained to their bed. Yet a single shot of liquid B-12 made them sane, coherent, rational and peaceful (if very, very confused about being restrained) in under a minute.
Tumors on glands, organs, and in the brain, can result in dramatic physiological and psychological changes. And, of course, they can slowly or rapidly kill.
Small strokes in the brain can turn a normal, loving person into a hate filled, angry one. And this rage can itself cause more strokes in a vicious spiral.
But there is a whole litany of medical problems that can do this, in any number of ways. So only when a person has been cleared by a doctor does the spiritual side come into play, is a priest able to help.
Importantly, this does not mean they cannot be concurrent, because people with mental health problems need spiritual counseling even more than usual.
My Grandfather was called “depressed” when he ended up in a nursing home. He was a German farmer, who hated being inside during the spring and summer. They dosed him to the gills, and it didn't work. When he got a room where he could look out at the fields, he was happier (or as happy as a farmer like he was can be in a nursing home).
It wasn't chemical, it was emotional.
I didn’t read the article, so don’t know why Catholics were singled out. But do ALL Christians do enough for the mentally-ill?
Many studies have shown that psychotherapy is no more successful than talking with any impartial stranger. Ie. it cannot outperform a placebo.
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