Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect. (Pope Francis, 2013)
Mental illness affects us all. One in five Americans is suffering from mental disorder, and many more are affected when loved ones or co-workers wrestle with depression and other mental challenges. Unfortunately, mental illness and mental health care are most frequently discussed in acute and tragic times, such as public shootings, but the conversation often seems to end at headlines. It is important to explore how mental illness affects us, and then how we might build an understanding and supportive community.
A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis. A mental health condition is not the result of one event. Research suggests multiple, linking causes. Genetics, environment and lifestyle influence whether someone develops a mental health condition. A stressful job or home life makes some people more susceptible, as do traumatic life events like being the victim of a crime. Biochemical processes and circuits and basic brain structure may play a role, too.
Mental illness makes the headlines in connection with gun violence. However there is overwhelming epidemiological evidence that the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts; only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness. This does not mean that mental illness is not a risk factor for violence, but it is actually small, the vast majority of homicides being carried out by outwardly normal people in the grip of all too ordinary human aggression and with access to deadly weapons.
National Institute of Mental Health research shows that mental health problems are amenable to a combination of medication, support from services as well as family and friends, and adapting one’s life to changed circumstances. One of the greatest obstacles for people with mental illness and for their families is overcoming the stigma the general public associates with mental illness. Stigma erodes the dignity of the person and keeps people from receiving the treatment and care they need for recovery.
Another obstacle is the lack of access to affordable mental health care. Prisons and Jails have become the largest deliverers of mental health services in the United States with an estimated 25% or more of prisoners or jail inmates suffering from mental illness. They do not always receive the treatment they need when inside, even less when they are released.
Deinstitutionalization of public “mental hospitals” created an increase in homelessness because of poorly funded community programs. At least 20 to 25% of homeless people are thought to have a mental illness. People with mental illness need an array of services, affordable housing and supportive employment opportunities so they can make the transition to full recovery.
Sources: www.educationforjustice.org, the Catholic World Report, National Catholic Partnership on Disability, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and National Institute of Mental Health.
The Mentally Ill, also Made In God’s Image
Excerpt from “Mentally Ill are also Made in God’s Image,” by Pope John Paul II, Nov. 30, 199
The Church looks on these persons with special concern, as she looks on any other human being affected by illness. Instructed by the divine Teacher’s words, she believes that … [humans] are created in God’s image and likeness. The Church is deeply convinced of this truth, even when man’s mental faculties–the noblest, because they testify to his spiritual nature–seem severely limited and even impeded by a pathological process. She therefore reminds the political community of its duty to recognize and celebrate the divine image in man with actions that support and serve all those who find themselves in a condition of serious mental illness. This is a task which science and faith, medicine and pastoral care, professional skill and a sense of solidarity must help to carry out through an investment of adequate human, scientific and socio-economic resources. . .
It should be made clear however that the whole man, not just his spiritual soul, including his intelligence and free will, but also his body shares in the dignity of “the image of God….Hence the need to respect one’s own body, and also the body of every other person, especially the suffering (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 10043)…..
At this point we feel the whole weight of the disturbing question which appears in the theme: “Always?” This is a provocative question which is not only asked at the ontological level—here faith and reason converge in recognizing the full human dignity of the mentally ill—as much as at the deontological level: one can in fact ask whether the way a mentally ill person is treated by his peers in daily life corresponds fully and adequately to what he is in God’s plan. That question—”Always?”—must spur both the personal and the collective conscience to a sincere reflection on our behaviour towards those persons who are suffering from mental illness. Is it not true that all too often these persons encounter indifference and neglect, when not also exploited and abused?…..
We cannot close our eyes to certain forms of behaviour which seem to ignore human dignity and to trample on his inalienable rights. Mentally ill always bear God’s image and likeness. We Christians especially cannot do so. In this regard the Gospel speaks clearly. Christ not only took pity on the sick and healed many of them, restoring health to both their bodies and their minds, his compassion also led him to identify with them. He declares: “I was sick and you visited me” (Mt 25:36). The disciples of the Lord, precisely because they were able to see the image of the “suffering” Christ in all people marked by sickness, opened their hearts to them, spending themselves in various forms of assistance.
Well, Christ took all human suffering on himself, even mental illness. Yes even this affliction, which perhaps seems the most absurd and incomprehensible, configures the sick person to Christ and gives him a share in his redeeming passion. Thus the response to the theme’s question is clear: whoever suffers from mental illness “always” bears God’s image and likeness in himself, as does every human being. In addition, he “always” has the inalienable right not only to be considered as an image of God and therefore as a person, but also to be treated as such.
It is everyone’s duty to make an active response: our actions must show that mental illness does not create insurmountable distances, nor prevent relations of true Christian charity with those who are its victims. Indeed, it should inspire a particularly attentive attitude towards these people who are fully entitled to belong to the category of the poor to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs (cf. Mt 5:3).
Do You Know? (from www.nami.org)
- 8 million adults in America (1 in 5) experience mental illness in a given year.
- Nearly 1 in 25 (10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness.
- 1% (42 million) of American adults live with anxiety disorders, 6.9% (16 million) with major depression, 2.6% (6.1 million) with bipolar disorder, 1% (2.4 million) with schizophrenia.
- 50% of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; 75% by the age of 24.
- Approximately 10.2 million adults have co-occuring mental health and addiction disorders.
- Approximately 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and 24% of state prisoners have “a recent history of a mental health condition”.
- 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
- Nearly 60% of adults and 50% of youth aged 8-15 with a mental illness did not receive mental health services in the previous year.
What Can You Do?
Pray for all those affected by mental illness and their families.
Prayer for Those with Mental Illnesses
Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, you were distressed in mind and wounded in spirit. You took on this painful human experience and asked if your disciples would provide comfort by being aware and compassionate. Through your church and our beloved John Paul II, you ask your disciples today to provide comfort and compassion to those who are suffering from emotional and mental illnesses. Help us not to fail you in this challenge. Guide us to understand the complexities of mental illness. Give us the discernment to seek justice for those who suffer in mind. Grant us compassionate hearts so we may embrace them as your children. Bring us all to health and wholeness in mind and body. Amen.
Activities in Life, Justice and Charity at St. Mary’s
St. Vincent de Paul Thanksgiving Food Drive and call for Volunteers: Join the St. Vincent de Paul Society for their annual Thanksgiving Food Distribution providing 200 low or no-income families with bags of groceries to help them during this holiday by bringing non-perishable food items to the church by November 16, making a monetary donation or volunteering. For more info, visit www.aggiecatholic.org/thanksgiving-food-drive.
Stampede 4 Need 5K T-Shirt Design Contest: We need help coming up with a t-shirt design for the annual 5K scheduled for February 2017 raising money for St. Vincent de Paul Society. Winner gets 3 free t-shirts and registration to the 5K. Submissions are due by Nov 20. For more info, visit www.aggiecatholic.org/tshirt-contest.