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.
All the therapy in the world won't cure a chemical imbalance. While there is certainly a place for psychopharmacology the impartial studies on the effectiveness of therapy are not impressive.
There is no simple answer to depression. The specifics of the disease are as unique as the person experiencing it.
I spent a 7 full years in a state of crippling major depression. I went from being a straight A+ college student working on important scientific experiments to someone who could barely change a bed sheet without assistance. It happened in the blink of an eye and just about destroyed my life. 90% of my thoughts were of suicide...for 7 years straight. Right now I’m essentially starting all over again and don’t have enough money to live on my own for at least another 4 months. Religious counseling was useless because I was a nihilist. Anything and everything appeared inadequate. It got so bad at a few points that I can now honestly say that I can comprehend the thought patterns of mass murderers. Lanza? Yes I know what he was probably thinking. Only a healthy person is able to see and comprehend the presence of beauty and why it is worth preserving and protecting. A depressed nihilist is convinced about the victory of horror, outright accepts the victory because nothing else remains, and goes along with it. This is why I say that depression is the single worst disease in the universe. It is the only disease that can literally kill the soul given enough time and intensity and turn you into an empty husk...or far worse. If you somehow survive it then it’s like a soul being reborn.
I have still never regained any optimism about life but at least I can now look at things from a relatively fair and rational perspective. Depression killed that ability and in the end only time caused its rebirth. I believe it was because my brain was still developing so the chemistry changed.
many drugs are ineffective for treating depression because the disease hijacks most of the brain. It is profoundly difficult to treat in many cases.
define mental illness....
hint: is it the VA.... or a politican who happens to be in power at the time..
what is the criteria????
inquiring minds want to know...
And your pastor studied medicine where? HE doesn't even understand the concepts of anxiety disorders. My brain, injured by stroke slips into a self preservation mode similar to your bodies fight or flight responses. Anytime of day or night Bamm shortness of breathe rapid heart beats and i feel like i just finished a knockdown drag out fight for my life. Meds have been a God send. No Amount of confession or prayer is going to help at 2am and i gotta get to work by 6am
That honestly explains a lot of your posts.
Do we really believe that leaving the Bible out of our society in so many ways WON'T have an impact? In fact, it will have exactly the impact it has had...millions dealing with condemnation, addiction, and social problems (all of which cause depression).
The further we stray from Biblical teaching the more these types of problems increase. But if God's World is put out there to comfort and bring assurance about the reality of salvation and eternal life, then revival will take place and MANY of these problems will disappear. Addiction, for example, is directly related to people being too focused on this world and its pleasures (which brings bondage i.e. addiction) to the exclusion of the other.
I say this only out of compassion for all those who suffer deeply from not being exposed to truth. I see some signs of revival; I hope it comes quickly.
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 ones confessor or priest may be better (depending on whether the priest is truly Godly).
Unbelievable to read this in 2013.
I can only hope for your sake that no one in your circle ever descends into actual mental illness, and also hoping for others that you are not in a position to advise one who is mentally ill. I don’t say that with spite or anger. You just don’t know better because it’s clear you’ve never seen mental illness up close and personally. And I count that as a really, really good thing.
Those who have would never say what you have said.
success for the therapist in ripping off your insurance company
Funny, success for my mom’s psychiatrist was keeping her alive for at least 20 years more than had she been untreated.
Did a psychiatrist or some other mental health professional steal your girlfriend in college or something like that. There is little rationality or factual information in your posts.
no but some “i’m OK, You’re OK” hacks ruined my parents’ marriage, does that count?
no but some im OK, Youre OK hacks ruined my parents marriage, does that count?
I read that book as a highschooler in the 70s, even then I sensed it was a crock.
If your folks weren’t having issues already, they likely would not have seen a the hack you speak of, right?
And my commentary was really about significant mental illness, not relationship issues, so I think we are really discussing two very different issues.
**There is no simple answer to depression.**
But D3 helps a lot.
My theory, which is worth exactly nothing, is that “mental illness” is an absence of God, a disease of the soul. As differs from low IQ, brain injury etc.
Act of Faith, Act of Hope, Act of Love
Act of Faith
O my God, I firmly believe
that you are one God in three divine Persons,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I believe that your divine Son became man
and died for our sins and that he will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe these and all the truths
which the Holy Catholic Church teaches
because you have revealed them
who are eternal truth and wisdom,
who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
In this faith I intend to live and die.
firma fide credo et confíteor
ómnia et síngula quæ
sancta Ecclésia Cathólica propónit,
quia tu, Deus, ea ómnia revelásti,
qui es ætérna véritas et sapiéntia
quæ nec fállere nec falli potest.
In hac fide vívere et mori státuo.
Act of Hope
O Lord God,
I hope by your grace for the pardon
of all my sins
and after life here to gain eternal happiness
because you have promised it
who are infinitely powerful, faithful, kind,
In this hope I intend to live and die.
Dómine Deus, spero per grátiam tuam
remissiónem ómnium peccatórum,
et post hanc vitam ætérnam felicitátem
me esse consecutúrum:
quia tu promisísti, qui es infiníte
potens, fidélis, benígnus, et miséricors.
In hac spe vívere et mori státuo.
Act of Love
O Lord God, I love you above all things
and I love my neighbor for your sake
because you are the highest, infinite and perfect
good, worthy of all my love.
In this love I intend to live and die.
amo te super ómnia
et próximum meum propter te,
quia tu es summum, infinítum,
et perfectíssimum bonum,
omni dilectióne dignum.
In hac caritáte
vívere et mori státuo.
Christ Candle of Hope Prayer
|God, our loving Father, you sent your Son,
Jesus Christ, into this world to counter
all the forces of evil: sin, suffering and death,
and to overcome evil with the force of good;
hatred with the power of love,
your great love for us in Jesus.
Help us never to curse the darkness,
but to join with you in bringing
Your light into this world,
the light that is your Son,
born of the Virgin Mary, in Bethlehem.
Helps us to be instruments of your light
and love by doing one special act of kindness
or by being your special instrument
of reconciliation this New Year.
May the Christ Candle we light symbolize
our desire to bring light into a world of darkness
and hope into a world of despair.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
OK. I hope you never have cause to rethink that position (by having a loved one descend into real mental illness - bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or the like). Frankly, I wish I’d had the luxury of never experiencing it up close, so I could remain where I was before having to involuntarily commit a family member, thinking that shrinks are useless, and all you needed to do was to pull yourself self up by the bootstraps, dust yourself off, and get back in the game. It’s just not that easy.
Actually, it's not funny at all.