Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental health awareness month. Are you aware of your mental health? Sometimes I wish I could be less aware, but this brain of mine has other plans. I have lived with mental illness most of my life, and there is no sign of it letting up any time soon.

If you are suffering with mental illness, I would like to offer some news today. If someone close to you is suffering, I hope to offer some other good news, and hopefully some half-decent advice.

The first piece of good news (i.e. gospel) for those living with mental illness is that help is available, and no Catholic should have any conscience issues in seeking it. Our bodies, including our minds, are just as valuable to God as our souls. Talk to your doctor and tell them what you are feeling. If you are recommended therapy, medicine, or both—do it. God does not want us to suffer needlessly!

The second piece of good news for those living with mental illness: “Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). Our society is unforgiving toward those deemed too weak or fragile to contribute, as mentally ill people are often characterized. God, our creator to whom we are ultimately accountable, is nothing but forgiving, nothing but gentle and understanding. When the days seem impossible or we feel worthless, our faith draws us to remember that God gives us our meaning and value—no one and nothing else.

The third piece of good news is that no one living with mental illness is alone. We might look around at times and get the sense that others don’t seem to deal with the darkness or restlessness we do, but I find that far more of us are struggling with a secret brokenness than may appear. Sharing our stories of mental health is so important, owning the reality that we are human, and that we need each other to get through. That need is not a sign of grave weakness of dysfunction. It is how God ordered us to live from the beginning.

Finally, a few words to those who care about someone living with mental illness. The good news for you is that you don’t have to fix anything, so try (as best you can) to let go of that burden. From my point of view as both a sufferer and a minister, I find what is often needed most is faithfulness in sickness and in health. That is to say, to give as God gives, not as the world gives.

When someone in a period of intense depression has isolated themselves for a time or has been unable to keep up with communications, it means the world to find some grace and forgiveness on the other side of things, to know that their relationship is not contingent on being well. When our minds are betraying us and we can’t function as we’d like, it means so much to have someone who gets it, and doesn’t try to force, correct, or guilt us into feeling or acting better.

People living with mental illness, like anyone living with a circumstance they cannot change by their own will, need all the compassion, gentleness, and patience we can muster. No need to fix or poke or prod: just be there unconditionally.

My dear friends, the Gospel brings good news for our mental health. Sick or well, God’s love and our value remain constant.

– Fr. Stu, CSP

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